During the years of my psychiatry practice, I have found that many of the problems affecting our health are somehow, in some way, related to stress, particularly the stressful lifestyle that we lead. If we clear out the stressful conditions controlling our life, it follows that we should be happier, healthier and more productive in whatever we do.
We are told that it is not stress that kills us. It is our reaction to it. If our blood begins to race, our stomach starts to grumble and ache, our nerves seem stretched to the absolute limit and our chest joins in the excitement with sudden sharp pains, then “Hello” to stress! Other common symptoms are frequent headaches, insomnia, general uneasiness, constipation or diarrhea, blood pressure fluctuations, and lightheadedness.
Many times we take these as part of normal life in the world today. We are daily bombarded with glaring headlines, angry faces on the TV news, air pollution, earthquakes and natural disasters, car crashes and airplane crashes, ships being hijacked, urgent deadlines at the office, reports that should have been done yesterday, etc., etc., etc. Our cell phones are always disturbing us with their incessant ringtones, emails shout “reply now or else”. Noise is all around us, too, adding its chaotic voice to the mix.
One Christian author that I read some time ago, sorry, I forget his name, believed that we need to “listen to life”. Not to the obvious noises. Not to the circus of events swirling around us. Not to the TV and radio soaps. He defined listening to life as the art of hearing the whisper of God instructing us in His ways, to listen between the noises to that still, small silence that speaks in peace to our heart.
How do we do this? We can remain calm even in the middle of the marketplace. From the onset of every stressful situation there is always a brief second or two in which we can choose either to react or to respond. To react is to take action instinctively, usually without thinking about it, usually resulting in escalation of the stressful situation. However, we can choose to pause just a moment, take a deep breath, have a quick think, and then act calmly in such a way as to defuse the stressful situation.
Other ways to deal with stress include making a conscious choice to be happy each day, to choose to look at things positively instead of negatively. We can learn to say “no” to adding yet another appointment or meeting in our already busy schedules. We can take instant meditation breaks, instead of coffee breaks, by visualizing a peaceful scene in nature (like a lazy river flowing by, or the hush as the dawning sun greets you with its first morning rays) for a few moments.
Nourish upbuilding friendships with caring persons (such as BCBP brothers and sisters) who will encourage and support you when you are down. Exercise, take a walk in early evening with your children or your dog, eat healthy meals, and get enough sleep. Yes, we know we are supposed to do these things, but do we really take the time out to do them regularly?
Listen to life. Listen to the pauses between the incessant noises. Listen when God whispers He loves you in the sweet songs of the birds, in the laughter of children, in the warm hug of a loved one, even in the angry criticism of your boss. God is always with us, we just need to take time to listen to Him, to listen to life. Then, and only then, can we say “good-bye” to stress.