Today we are asking, “How are you feeling?” Maybe you’ve been feeling the stress that so many people are feeling these days. Just listening to the news causes stress. All we hear is news about COVID, political division and strife, lockdowns, job loss and economic upheaval. It doesn’t help that there isn’t a clear end in sight. It’s easy to see why people’s stress and anxiety levels are at an all-time high.
Stress and anxiety have always been with us. If fact, a certain level of stress is good for us. It keeps us engaged and also keeps us from getting bored. Examples of that type of stress could be a job promotion, a move to a new neighborhood or starting a new relationship with someone. That’s not the kind of stress we are talking about today.
In the past, it seems like there has been an “ebb and flow” to stress. There would be times for the mind and body to recover before being hit with the next wave of stress. However, this year there hasn’t seemed to be any respite from the stress at all. It has continued day after day, week after week and month after month. It has become chronic.
And “therein lies the rub,” as they say. Chronic stress can be detrimental to our physical and emotional health. When we feel stress, our bodies release cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can be beneficial in helping us to react quickly if we encounter situations where we may need to "fight or flee." However, when the stress is chronic our bodies don’t have a chance to recover. We continually feel tension, blood pressure can increase, we don’t sleep as well and our eating habits can be negatively affected. In addition, chronic stress can take a toll on us emotionally. We can feel sad, depressed, angry and anxious. Also, addictions and suicides can increase.
Technology can contribute to our feelings of stress. Since we seem unable to go anywhere without our cell phone attached to us, we are constantly bombarded by texts, calls and news alerts of mostly bad news. We read things on social media platforms that can get us “riled up."
Many of the stressors we have talked about such as COVID, political division, lockdowns and economic upheaval are outside our control. We have been blindsided by them without a chance to prepare ourselves. In addition, we can feel stress from things we do have more control over, such as hanging around toxic people, staying in a job we dislike or spending beyond our means.
It can seem overwhelming. What can we do to alleviate the situation when stress is so pervasive? It’s good to remember the wise words of Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor and author of the classic book, "Man’s Search for Meaning." He says, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
From those words we realize that no matter what happens to us, we have the freedom to choose our attitude and our reactions. We can choose to be a victim or we can choose to be a victor. Whether or not we are in control of the stressful situations, once they occur we can choose our response. That is a powerful life lesson!
Knowing we have a choice means we can devise a plan or strategy on how we respond. Having a systematic response to stress can, in and of itself, be helpful in minimizing the harmful effects on our mind and body. For example, taking some slow, deep breaths can have a calming effect on our nervous system and allow us to think more clearly.
Also, it can be helpful to write down the things that cause us stress. Next, rank them in order of severity. Finally, list the various options for reacting to those stressors. This gives the opportunity to reflect on possible reactions and rule out any knee-jerk responses that may be harmful. Also, prayer and meditation can be helpful. And, of course, reach out for help if needed.
What about you? Do you have a strategy for dealing with stress? By the time you are reading this the election will have taken place and the results may, or may not, be known. Whatever the result, it can be stressful for many. Being aware of strategies to deal with stress can be helpful for your physical and emotional health. We wish you peace and calm through difficult times.