Stress is a constant companion throughout life. While many of us would like to reduce our stress, we would most be unhappy if it were reduced too far. Take away all the stress of life and we lie all day on a soft bed with gentle music playing in the background. That would get old pretty quickly for most people. The issue for us is what kind of stress and how much? Flying down the slopes on skis in the Austrian Alps certainly puts a stress on the mind and body. However, for those of us who like to ski, it would be a pleasant stress. We would love to do it more often. On the other hand, running out of gas and walking 3 miles to a gas station and consequently being very late for work is also stressful but most of us would not welcome that kind of stress.
We can either be passive objects of the stress that befalls us or we can find ways to manage it. The goal is to maximize the positive effects and minimize the negative. The first step is to take an inventory of all the stressors that affect us. When they are all listed we will find that some stressors will be pleasant and others unpleasant. Some will be small stressors; some will be huge. An unpleasant stressor that is small is probably not much of an issue but an unpleasant stressor that is huge can be a significant problem. Some unpleasant stressors we may be able to eliminate. Some we cannot eliminate but we can find ways to minimize their effects.
Pleasant stress is a necessary ingredient for a healthy body and mind. If you find yourself bored a lot, it may be time to add a little pleasant stress. Managing it is a matter of regulating the variety and degree. Pleasant stress may include things like getting a promotion, riding a bicycle, going on a vacation or doing volunteer work. Getting a promotion involves adjusting to a new status, learning new skills and meeting greater expectations. Riding a bicycle involves choosing when, where and how far to go. Going on a vacation involves making plans, traveling and working out how to take care of daily needs in a different environment. Volunteer work pays the benefit of knowing we are contributing to our community.
Unpleasant stressors may include things like credit card debt, people who mistreat us, high cholesterol, arthritis, or natural disasters. Natural disasters, we can do little about but we may be able to protect ourselves. Credit card debt we can do something about, given time. A friend of mine, on advice from his physician, made a "lifestyle change." He switched to a low cholesterol diet and started a moderate daily exercise routine. He feels a lot better now. Minimizing unpleasant stress involves taking good care of ourselves. Here are some suggestions:
- Eat a healthy diet. Cut back on sugar and caffeine.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise involves accomplishing something physically challenging. It relaxes and strengthens the body and provides a sense of being able to overcome obstacles.
- Choose a hobby. A hobby is something we enjoy doing and we set out own standards. Some people enjoy woodworking or scrapbooking. Others play a musical instrument or dance. Others participate in Community Theater. These are things that help us feel good about ourselves.
- Get together with friends and laugh a lot. Laughter is one of the best stress relievers there is; and friends love us even when things are not going well. We can be ourselves around them.
- Find something that will take you away and relax you. It may be music, as the song says, "Let me get lost in your rock and roll." Others may prefer to get lost in a good book, a movie, meditation, or yoga. These are things that take our minds away from the current situation and give us a mental vacation.