Mind Matters: Who has time for stress management?

ELINOR STANTON

Are you feeling stressed, overwhelmed or filled with anxiety about how much you want/need/can’t accomplish? Then you’re in the 21st century. Despite leaps in technology that were supposed to make life easier, it seems that most of us are far busier than our ancestors were.

Take the telephone, for example. In our grandparents’ day, the telephone was still almost a novelty. By today’s standards, it was hardly used. Automated answering services didn’t exist and the most likely reason for a telephone-related delay was that someone was using the party line. Yes, I can recall picking up the phone to make a call and interrupting a conversation in progress on the eight-party line. Nowadays, we use a phone dozens of times a day and go nowhere without one!

By now you’re wondering how stress and telephones are connected. Well, it occurred to me that perhaps the evolution of our lifestyles from rural to urban has been partly due to the telephone, as it seems to have been a harbinger of the technological era.

Imagine living in 1850. You and your relatives probably lived close to each other. Your friends were also close; no one moved away for a better job or other amenities, so friendships tended to remain nearby. You traveled by foot or horseback, slowly. Speedy automobiles had yet to be invented. Even 20 miles was considered a long distance.

No one was “a phone call away.” You had to plan ahead, or more likely, establish rituals for keeping in touch. It was necessary to stop everything in order to enjoy the company of relatives and friends. The trip to visit Grandma or Aunt Rose was just far enough that you went for the whole day. The whole process was relaxing, enjoyable and slow.

Think how different the pace was then – much slower. Visiting was given special priority. An entire day was saved for the trip to and fro, and for the activities on arrival. Preparation for the trip was part of the week’s plans. In 2010, we keep in touch by finding an hour or two to squeeze in lunches or coffee at Starbucks between other appointments and commitments.

In today’s world, speed, enhanced by hundreds of inventions and new technologies, have drastically changed the way we experience life. We multi-task, competing to see who can accomplish the most, the best, most quickly.

American business promotes these attitudes by continuing to downsize, leaving fewer people to produce more, often with no additional financial incentives. We are stressed by an incredibly competitive culture that we pass on to our children, expecting them to excel at any cost. We are stressed, too, when they fail, and they learn at an early age the meaning of stress.

Financial pressures are another major source of stress. Our affluence as a nation, with our plethora of goods and merchandise, serves to drive the American competitive spirit even harder. Competition is always stressful; we are so afraid of mediocrity.

In our frenetic busyness, we have little time for each other in ways that ease, soothe and relieve stress. We have even less time for ourselves. We’re too busy to breathe deep and smell the roses. We must get the children to daycare, stop for a quick cup of coffee, be at work on time, meet deadlines, pick up the kids, prepare a meal of sorts and complete various household chores, and then it’s time to fall into bed. Who has time for stress management?

Stress is an integral part of life; it cannot be avoided. For most of us, even living in Bali might be stressful, because we would find something to worry about. We might have to leave, the weather might change or an asteroid might possibly hit. Ironically, a life of leisure often provides more time for creative negativity; simply another form of stress.

Interestingly, the major source of stress lies within. Such a concept may sound revolutionary, but it implies that management of stress comes from within, also. The myriad suggestions for coping with stress will be effective only when one has fully grasped this awareness.

If stress is inevitable, is there a solution? All of the most common stress management maneuvers can be very effective, but only if we make time to use them. Assuming that stress is primarily manufactured internally, through our perceptions, then we must change those perceptions.

The simplest approach is to first, assess your life. Ask what is truly important in the long run. Then, ask yourself why it is important to you. Is it because you feel pressured by parents, children, friends or coworkers? Or, is it because you sincerely believe in your goals and aspirations? The answer will determine your ability to decrease the stress in your life.

When you maintain a focus on goals of your choosing, you can weed out the extras that drain and waste energy. You can slow down. You can refuse, without guilt, requests that do not foster your values and aims. Each time you reevaluate these goals, you become more centered, calmer and less stressed; then stress management may work.

This solution to stress is not instantaneous, but if you commit to looking inside, you will find that you no longer feel frantic and exhausted, as if you never have enough time. You will slow down, deep breathe, stretch and exercise. Life will become much more meaningful.

Elinor Stanton is a psychiatric nurse practitioner on Marco Island, with 33 years experience as a therapist, both in private practice and with a large health maintenance organization in Boston. She graduated from Boston College and the University of Rochester, and is certified as a clinical specialist by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Stanton also is certified in Imago Relationship Therapy and trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Comments and questions may be submitted to etseven@aol.com or 394-2861.

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