We're all familiar with stress. We know the symptoms; headaches, stomach upset, sleepless nights, irritability. And we know the causes; marital problems, job issues, parenting challenges . . . oh, and I almost forgot . . . a crashing stock market, a failing economy and a rapidly disappearing faith in a financially secure future.
So what do we do about it? There are lots of stress remedies out there and I've tried them all. Well, most of them anyway. Exercise, positive thinking, yoga, meditation . . . you name it, I've done it. While I've gotten some benefit from each, I think that I may have finally hit upon the most powerful of all. Action.
Taking action, no matter how small or seemingly futile, might actually be the remedy of remedies.
Most of the time, the people or problems that seem to be the root cause of our stress are really just part of the problem. It's how we perceive these stressors that really creates the havoc. When a problem presents itself, our initial reaction may be to become upset or annoyed, but if we see that the problem can be solved . . . if we perceive ourselves as having some sense of control . . . the negative effects are short-lived. It's when we feel powerless that the trouble really begins.
Large problems over which we see ourselves as having little power can quickly become overwhelming. The more we dwell on them and the less we believe we can fix them, the larger the toll they will take. The answer? It may seem trite, but let's think about these words with which, I am sure, you are all familiar:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”
Old and perhaps overused but full of common-sense wisdom. Any therapist worth his or her salt will also tell you that this is, in essence, what therapy is all about. It could just as easily be called the “Sanity Prayer.”
The first step in all of this is to evaluate those things that are upsetting you. Some things really can't be changed and for those things prayer, meditation, or other methods of calming the body and the mind might really be the best medicine. But for those things that you can change, the answer is to take action. Just be careful when you're deciding into which of these categories your problems fall. Don't be too quick to toss stressors into the “things I can't control” bin. You might be more powerful than you think. I recently learned this lesson myself.
Those of you who read my blog regularly may have noticed my recent obsession with the presidential campaign. In fact, you may have noticed that I am blogging less frequently, mainly because I don't want to alienate my readers with constant political commentary. But my political obsession provided me with a great opportunity; the opportunity to learn that I do have some control over the things that bother me most and that taking action, getting more involved rather than resorting to avoidance, really is the best remedy to what ails me.
Without going into a political diatribe, let me just say that the personalities and campaign strategies of one of the major political parties have caused me to alternately gasp in horror, seethe with anger and shake my head in disbelief . . . regularly . . . well, everyday, more than once, if the truth be told. I am glued to the television and the computer, aghast at what seems to be the gullibility and, well let's just say it like it is for better or worse, the stupidity of large segments of the American public. As a result, my stress levels have gone through the roof, my friendships are being strained and even my husband, who has listened in sympathetic agreement to my ranting, is beginning to get that glazed look in his eyes when I start talking.
As I watch the presidential race turn into a farce and the economy sink like a stone, I could easily come to the conclusion that it is all beyond my control. I could simply turn off the t.v., shut down the computer and retreat to that little meditation corner in my bedroom and close my eyes to the world. But, after reading Daniel Chun's post “The Case for Insanity,” I decided that maybe that wasn't the answer. Maybe if I did something, anything, that seemed like a constructive, productive use of my exasperation-fueled, nervous energy, maybe that would make me feel better.
So I became a campaign volunteer. It's not something I would normally do. It is definitely outside of my comfort zone. Calling people I don't know to ask them if they will support my candidate of choice? Yikes! The very thought of it makes me shaky and sweaty. And yet, in spite of the nervousness it has caused me, I've slept better in the last few days than I have in weeks. My involvement in the campaign truly is the least that I can do; the impact of my efforts will be minuscule. But still, I am doing something. I have found a constructive outlet for my pent up frustrations and anger and I have proven to myself that, while I am only one, small voice, I am indeed more powerful than I believed myself to be. I can do something. For me, that has made all the difference.
So, what are your stressors? Take a good, long look at them and seriously consider your options. While some of them may make you feel powerless, you are probably stronger than you think. Before you throw in the towel and label a problem “a thing I can't control,” give it a little more thought. Is there really nothing that you can do? Or is there maybe just the littlest of something? Any effort is better than no effort, and whether or not the problem goes away, your feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness most likely will. Take a chance, take action and prove to yourself that you are indeed more powerful than you think.