Stress is part of all of our lives. In fact, a little stress is good for one. A violin string in an un-stretched state can’t produce a note. Tightening it to an optimal tautness, however, the string produces the quality tone that it was designed for in the hands of a violinist. Likewise, some stress keeps one on one’s toes, helps to focus one on the important issues at stake and stimulates one to apply energy to achieving one’s goals. It was James Bilkey who suggested: “You will never be the person you can be if pressure, tension and discipline are taken out of your life”. On the other hand, the over-tightened violin string snaps – so also with too much stress where we find ourselves panicking, fearful and with feelings of being out of control. The never-ending stream of bills, inflation, family responsibilities, the demands of developing our careers, business requirements and perhaps a dysfunctional relationship all weigh heavily on our lives, with feelings of stress being the inevitable result. Stress left unattended will probably multiply in terms of its negative impact, so dealing positively with stress becomes an unavoidable skill that we all have to acquire. This skill is all about “stretch”.
The ability to overcome and conquer stress lies chiefly in our skill to stretch ourselves in four areas:
- The stretching of our minds – the mind has the ability to “rationalise”: cover up mistakes, minimise risks and/or consequences, negotiate ourselves out of taking responsibility, fool us into believing that we are better or worse than we really are. A lack of perspective is the problem here – this can easily be remedied by seeking assistance from wise friends or professionals who will assist in finding solutions to the following key issues:
- An identification of the causes of the stress you are experiencing – external origins or self-inflicted (like procrastination, or perfectionism, or bad choices).
- We need to take responsibility for the control of our stress – what can be done? Are there things that we need to say “no” to?
- What are possible action steps that will bring about changes to your current situation and thus alleviate the stress that you are experiencing?
- Eliminating the unnecessary and negotiable to enable you to focus only on the key issues that are causing stress in the first place.
- The stretching of our bodies – our bodies need to be healthy and fit if we are to face the issues of life squarely and with resolve. Eating correctly, getting sufficient sleep, regular exercise and eliminating artificial dependencies (smoking, drinking too much, etc.) will enhance health and your ability to cope with whatever you are facing. Sufficient allocation of time to exercise needs to be applied – happy and productive people are in control of their schedules and build boundaries to protect themselves. Also, make time for fun and relaxation.
- The stretching of our emotions – avoid people who stress you out and grow key relationships with those you love and other key contacts who can encourage you and your development. Get your family behind helping you cope – disclose some of the relevant parts of the content of any discussions with professionals with your family to produce understanding and support. Express your feelings instead of bottling them up, but do this respectfully and wisely.
- The stretching of our spirituality – having and exercising faith is critical, not only to reduce and cope with stress, but also to develop yourself holistically. Pray a lot, read a lot, talk about your faith a lot. There is plenty of good literature to assist in this area of our lives. A well-grounded belief system becomes an excellent framework in which to sort through the stressors in your life.
Stress will probably never be eliminated out of one’s life, but it can be managed. Overcoming stress requires our exploration in four areas of stretch (mind, body, emotions and spirituality) – a holistic approach to dealing with the issues we face repetitively or from time to time. Decisive action needs to be taken, however, if we are to succeed. The suggested stretch does imply change – either a change in the situation or a change in our reaction. Proactively stretch yourself and make the necessary changes.