Not too long ago while visiting with a friend of mine, we started talking about stress. She explained to me, that stress had been a major factor in the decline of her health. This sweet friend of mine, was diagnosed with multiple health conditions at a very young age, and has since then spend a big chunk of her life in the hospitals and doctor’s offices. She has gone thru a couple of dozen surgeries and now in her early 50’s she still is a powerful example to me in overcoming adversity in life. As I talked to her, I started thinking about the word stress and how much I have read about it in recent years. This friend of mine is a bright, highly educated woman and extremely knowledgeable, and yet she has found herself in the same trap as me, and most likely millions of other people in the world. I say trap, because it took me a long time, before I discovered that the demands around me was damaging my health faster than I could improve it.
Simplified Definition Of Bad Stress
By now, I think most people know what stress is, because I dare to say that everyone has experienced stress at some point in their lives. It’s really sad to see, that stress doesn’t ask for our age before it shows up. It does not ask for money, whether or not we are rich or poor, it is merely part of mine and perhaps your life too. My observation has been the older I have gotten, that more and more people around me feel the effects of it. When the demands around us escalate, our bodies starts releasing hormones which then suppresses the immune system. Gradually as the immune system gets weaker, it becomes easier to get sick or existing conditions become worse.
“Att Gå In I Väggen”
First time I heard this phrase as a child in Sweden, I thought of it in literal terms. The English translation is “to hit the wall”. Basically to have a breakdown or being burnt out. A Swedish friend of mine explained to me once that this phrase is used, when a person tries to walk beyond a point, that is just not possible. I have heard this phrase used quite casually even though “to be burnt out” is an actual condition.There are actual physical and mental changes that occur when a person is burnt out. Some of these symptoms are, sleep disturbance – Insomnia, irritability, fatigue and concentration difficulties, frequent colds, and headaches. The list goes on and on. I have experienced many of these changes that can occur in a person’s body, and they can can become pretty damaging.
So what happened to my friend? Well she explained to me that her health got to the point where she had to start reevaluating her own personal choices. In her case, the consequences were real severe and I got to witness first hand the dangers of chronic stress. I had heard multiple times from my own doctors that I needed to get control over my daily stress, but I had not understood the reality of chronic stress and its effects. Chronic stress can alter the hormones in the body to the point where it can disrupt life severely. Prolonged major chronic stress can lead to depression, anxiety, stomach and skin problems. And It can also lead to heart problems, which in and of itself is the number one killer in the world. I have read studies that show, that almost every other adult in the US has at one point laid awake at nights because of stress. And I am one of them.
What Circumstances Can Create Stress?
Actually this question is one of the most searched topic on the internet. I am sure there are more educated people out there that can explain this question eloquently, so I want to explain it thru my experiences and observations of people around me.
TIME! The most precious gift, which we can’t buy more of, even if we had millions. How many of us try to shove 48 hours into 24 hours ? I have tried to run faster than my legs can carry me (and my legs are not very long). I have tried to pretend that I have enough time to do more than everyone else around me. We have to be wise when we try to reach out to others. Now that said, are we not supposed to help those around us? Are we not suppose to generate positive stress – which in turn leads to success and great accomplishments? Of Course we should try. We need positive stress in our lives. I know I do! It allows me to grow and continue to develop as an individual.
This one is really rough in my opinion. We become stressed because of the difficulty of chronic illnesses or even an accident, only to find that we are adding fuel to the fire by adding (subconsciously) stress to the pot. I don’t need to say much more on this.
Over and over again I have talked to friends and family about this one. Money in and of itself seems to create stress in people’s lives. Why do I say “money” instead of “lack of money”? I used to think, when I was younger that, if only I had a bit more money, all my other problems would be solved. Yes I really thought so! Now, later in life having a little bit more money has helped some, actually, I would be lying if I didn’t say, it has helped a lot. BUT, why is it that I still have problems, worries and insomnia? Probably because money helps us to manage our needs, and beyond that it can become just another stress factor.
This one is rough. The reason why I say is rough is because, we all have to make a living somehow. I speak with experience and have seen it more in my environment than I care to do. It is dang hard, when work conditions are challenging. Conflicts at work can appear in different ways. Disagreements with coworkers or leadership. Underpaid and overworked. Harsh conditions, such as poor temperature, ventilation, or noise. Harassment or even bullying. The list goes on and on. Since most people spend at least a third of their time at work, if not managed, work alone can become the biggest trigger to getting burnt out.
Death of a loved one.
Do I need to say much more. We all have lost someone we loved and cared for. I experienced this at a very young age. My twin sister and I lost two of our best friends before we had even turned sixteen. Kristina, she was beautiful and happy girl. She barely turned fifteen, we lost her to cancer. Then there was Susanna. She was talented and a bright girl, died at sixteen from a freak accident. My sister and I both were devastated by their loss. Since that day I have come to know, that if we live long enough, losing a loved one becomes inevitable.
Marriage, divorce, children, friends, extended family, aging parents and all human relationship can be a great blessing in our lives, but it can also cause unhealthy stress too. I have been placed in some circumstances where I had very little control over, and other situations where I managed to get out of (like an arranged marriage in middle east, in my youth, which I got out of). So you see, I have learned the phrase or saying that goes something like this, don’t judge people, because you have no idea what that person is fighting with, even when we think we know someone.
There are really multiple other causes to stress and they are not any less important. Basically the demands of everyday life can become stressful if not controlled. Meaning the expectations from people around us, situations we may be placed in. Encounters at work, in our family life or social circles. These can trigger small or large stressful events. But hopefully most of the time we can recognize the triggers and if possible, make necessary adjustments. The most important thing I have come to learn is, to take one small step at a time. Small steps towards the right direction, which have led to positive changes and had great impact in my life. It is a great feeling to feel empowered and to know that I am in control and I am the only one that can take those small steps towards change.
In my quest of learning more about better health and also less stress, I have learned few things along the way. There are hundreds of thousands of books, websites, seminars, workshops and podcasts about managing stress. There are thousands of quotes from smart people that are willing to share the “secrets” to managing stress. I have felt more stressed looking at shelves of self help books than not. Even though it can be overwhelming with all the information that is out there, it is an individual journey.
How I live, what I eat, how I exercise, how I prioritize my work and leisure time, can all be simplified. I can talk to a friend, go for a walk, love a little more, play in the sand with my grand kids, stop and smell the flowers, save one dollar a day (you don’t need to know what a hedge fund is – I don’t). Do the small simple things. Stop worrying about every little thing. I have learned to be more grateful for what I have and who I am. The attitude of gratitude saying finally caught up with me. And I am here to tell you, it WORKS! It really works. I wake up now each morning, and I am grateful that I can get out of my bed on my own, I can see the beauty around me. I can enjoy a visit from a grandchild or a phone call from one of our kids or a friend. Finding joy in the little things won’t eliminate stress completely but, it has helped me to learn to appreciate the small stuff and worry less about things that I cannot control.