Feelings of stress are triggered by our natural survival mechanisms. Though few of us will encounter saber-toothed tigers in our daily routine, many of us are as stressed as our caveman ancestors when we’re doing battle with the paper tigers of the modern workplace.
Much of our stress has to do with a mismatch between expectations and reality. As life’s pressures mount and your burdens increase, the resulting pressures can have a catastrophic impact on your health. Cardiovascular damage is the most common result of stress high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes can be directly related to the amount of stress in your daily life.
Good news: There are steps you can take to diminish stress even in the most difficult situations. How you react is your choice, far more than you realize.
Here are ways of identifying and controlling stress that can change your reaction pattern and lengthen your life
Have a soul mate
We know that up to age 70, marriage reduces the risk of premature death and disability by about 50%. We don’t have studies about living together, but presumably it works the same way. Having a friend, lover or companion to share your life and your feelings is one of the most important health insurance policies you can have.
Also helpful: Owning a pet, which enables you to interact emotionally. Caring for your pet will also distract you and prevent stress from building up.
Do you have someone other than your mate who is genuinely interested in you, who will empathize with you and listen to you and your troubles anytime?
Such strong friendships are especially important for men because men aren’t naturally as good at making friends as women are. Early training to be competitive hampers their efforts at friendship.
Example: When a group of women have lunch together, they all usually share in the conversation. At a table of men, however, what you normally see is one man talking at the others and every man in the audience is just waiting for his turn to seize the floor.
Real friends are made one at a time, usually through shared activity. If you’re a man, you may have to make a special effort to cultivate friendships but it’s worth the time and energy.
If you have friends who enjoy you as you are and with whom you can act naturally, you have a second ring of protection. They add more time and enjoyment to the length of your life.
People who have religious connections that are fulfilling also have a health advantage. Note that I said fulfilling. It’s how you feel about your religious connections that counts, not how anybody else feels about them. Even if you go to religious services because you think you should or if you’re doing it for the sake of appearances or for your kids that counts. If your spiritual beliefs are a source of support to you, if your participation in prayer or meditation or religious services is nourishing then you has reduced your odds of dying before 70.
Most successful people think they have to do everything perfectly. Perfectionists are hard on them and are horrible to work for. Because nothing they do is good enough, they project their dissatisfaction and put the blame on you. Nothing you do will ever be good enough, either.
How do you tell whether you’re a perfectionist? If you find yourself frequently saying, I should, I must, I have to.
Solution: Prioritize your perfectionism. Pick two or three things in your job or your life, and focus your perfectionism on them. Constantly remind yourself that it is fine to do other things in a less-than-perfect manner.
A person who is unassertive is a people pleaser someone who doesn’t like to say “no” for fear others won’t like him/her. If you feel you have to say “yes” to too many things, you’ll get overloaded.
Unassertive people are usually angry inside. When overloaded, they blow their tops. Others feel this anger and become uncomfortable then they push the unassertive person away.
Be assertive to make your work life go well. If there are problems at work, decide what needs to be changed and how. Then talk to your boss. Tell him you need feedback to do your best work.
The value of values
My definition of values knows just what you want to guide your life. A person who has no values and who doesn’t know where he’s going or doesn’t care what he’s doing will never make any progress.
Hans Selye, the physician who created the field of stress study, once said that no wind blows in favor of a ship without direction.
Being aware of what guides you can have a profound impact on every aspect of your life. Benjamin Franklin was a loser in his 30s. He simply couldn’t get his life together. Finally, he hit on the strategy of writing what he wanted out of life. He referred to his list frequently. By means of this process he was able to make great advances and increased his contributions to American life.
Helpful: Write down 30 or 40 things you want on 3″ x 5″ cards, one item to each card. Go over the list, and choose the six items that are most important to you. Carry those cards around with you during the day, and refer to them at least twice a day to see how much you’ve been able to accomplish on each task.
Diversify your life
It’s important not to focus only on one or two areas of intent. All of us need a variety of diversions, so that if one interest area becomes stressful or goes sour, there will be others that are doing well and can take up the slack.
People who lead stressful lives narrow the focus of their lives to just one or two areas. But if one of those areas develops a problem, there’s a danger that they won’t have other interests to fall back on. If a person has a range of interests, the others can sustain him through whatever reorganization is done.
Examples: Volunteer work is particularly life-enhancing. Not only does it distract you from dwelling on your own anxiety, but it also enables you to channel your energy in a positive way. Aerobic exercise conditions our bodies and creates a sense of well-being. It releases natural chemicals (hormones) that create optimism and improve our resilience and our resistance to stress and illness.
Humor lengthens your life
We have to be able to laugh at ourselves and at humorous situations. If you’ve lost this ability, you’re in trouble.
Helpful: Try watching comedies on TV or going to see funny movies. Laughter is very powerful medicine. I prescribe a daily dose until you’ve regained your sense of enjoyment in life.