Stress is pervasive in our lives. Therefore it is not a question of how to avoid stress, but rather how to deal with stress. Stress does not lessen as you grow older, it simply takes different forms. Here are two examples. The high school juniors I teach are stressed because academically this is the year that will decide which college they will enter in 2011. So many students apply early action or early decision to college that junior year grades largely become the arbiter of their acceptance letters. They also need to bolster their school resume and try to maintain and juggle impossible schedules of sport, music, drama, publications and extra curricula clubs and activities with at least one having a community service component. Stress cuts into sleep, and down time is fast becoming an endangered species if it is not already one.
At the other end of the spectrum are the elderly. Some like my mother, who three years ago, in her mid-eighties, suffered a stroke, has been fortunate to receive excellent medical care and now lives in an assisted living facility where she is well looked after. Her stress is caused by her inability to communicate, as she would like, due to her stroke-induced brain damage, her frailty (she is in a wheel chair), the loss of control of every aspect of her life, as well as her sense of impending death. The vast majority of elderly people are not so fortunate and spend their last years in poverty, deprivation and with a frustrated acceptance of their reduced quality of life. This causes them and their loved ones enormous stress.
We live in stressful times. Recent college graduates struggle to find jobs, middle-aged workers who have been laid off struggle to find jobs and some way to fulfill their responsibilities to their families. We are stressed about war in Iraq and Afghanistan, climate change, and how and when will the struggling world economy recover. And the list goes on.
Some strategies to deal with stress:
Physical – eat right, exercise, try to get enough sleep, build in recreation and down time. Maybe take a yoga class, and learn how to meditate. Breathe deeply.
Emotional – make the effort to stay connected with family and friends. If you live alone think about acquiring a pet. Prioritize a list of what satisfies you emotionally—music, movies, bowling, carpentry—and make the time to treat yourself and indulge in what gives you pleasure.
Psychological—don’t try to push through the commitments you have regardless of your health. Take a day off when you feel sick, learn that tomorrow is another day and you will have time to complete your tasks. Seek a balance between home life, work or school life, and your time for your private self, life.
Remind yourself that this is the one life you have to live. Be passionate. Your life is happening now, this is not a rehearsal.