by Lawrence Vijay Girard
Many people think that stress is symptomatic of only our modern times. They think that if we could just go back to a simpler time everything would be easy and stress free. Let’s take a little journey into the past and see if that is actually true.
Imagine yourself living in a cave and going down to the local watering hole for a cool dip on a hot afternoon. On the way you have to climb a tree and wait for a few minutes while a pack of wild boars go by. Once you get on your way again you get distracted by the noise of an unseen animal thrashing through the bushes to your left, which causes you to take your eyes off the game trail that you are on, and you unintentionally step into something wet, squishy and smelly…oh yes, you are barefoot…shoes won’t arrive for about 10,000 years. No problem, this has happened before. The water is close now; you can just wash your foot when you get there. Oh wait, what is that sound? Oh, it is only a tyrannosaurus! It is a good thing that you smell like poop instead of dinner. Maybe a cool dip isn’t such a good idea right now. That might be stressful!
Too far back you say?
Well, how about living in the chaos of ancient Rome. Or maybe you would like to be a Lord or Lady of the middle ages, where starvation and pestilence were lurking in the dark? How about being a slave or having your village plundered? Prefer the old west? That sounds good if you like no indoor plumbing, hauling your water from the well and fear of crop failure.
The truth is that there is no time in history when life has been without challenge. And challenge equals potential for stress: physical, mental and spiritual. It isn’t when we live, but how we live, that determines our experience of wellbeing.
We should be the happiest people in the world! We have supermarkets, mobile phones, personal transportation, soft beds, air conditioning, fast food and television; we even have an ambulance that will come and get us if we need help. Yet every one of these comforts has also been a source of stress at one time or another. You say, “How could a soft bed be a source of stress?” Well, if you have ever had a mattress that was too soft and saggy, it probably caused you at least physical and mental stress. And if you use it long enough it may reach into your spirit as well.
Even in the best of times people are faced with birth, death, illness, accidents, relationships, natural disasters and the question of life’s purpose. The very nature of life on planet earth is that each day will bring unexpected changes. And change is always fraught with the potential to cause stress.
Thus, we can conclude that life equals stress? Well, not exactly. We can say that life equals stress and/or the potential for stress. What’s the difference? In nature, we recognize that there are environmental factors that present to everyone, yet everyone doesn’t respond to those influences in the same way: this is true mentally, physically and spiritually for all of us.
Our physical genetics and the general condition of our health will affect how we react to our physical environment. Our mental/emotional makeup will determine how we handle things mentally, which will also affect our physical reaction and our spiritual reaction. And of course the state of our spirit will affect our body and mind as well. It is the current state of the body, mind, and spirit that will determine how we react consciously or unconsciously to the challenges of daily life.
The key here is to realize that we can act consciously in life to improve our reaction to influences that we can’t always control, while we apply effort to improving things that we can control.
Is stress always bad?
Paul J. Rosch, M.D., M.A., F.A.C.P., the president of the American Institute of Stress has stated, “Increased stress increases productivity – up to a point, after which things rapidly deteriorate, and that level also differs for each of us. It’s much like the stress or tension on a violin string. Not enough produces a dull raspy sound and too much an irritating screech or snaps the string – but just the correct degree of stress creates a beautiful tone.
Similarly, we all have to find the right amount of stress that permits us to make pleasant music in our daily lives. You can learn how to utilize and transform stress so that it will make you more productive and less self-destructive.”
When we use the stress of life challenges to create positive change in our lives we call it motivation. If those challenges drag us down we call it stress. It is like living in New York City. Some people feel that the hustle bustle is exciting and motivating. While others feel that it is stressful and debilitating. To this we must add the fact that even amongst those who like the stimulation of city life, there is a price to pay. If you like to have a sip of wine once in a while it is not a big thing, but if you become an alcoholic it will be detrimental to your health no matter what you think about it. It is the same when we expose ourselves to continuously stressful environments. If we overdo it, there will be consequences. Yes, you can alleviate many of the symptoms, but you can’t cure yourself until you deal with the most systemic issues.
Am I suggesting that moving out of the city is a cure all? No, it is just that we need to see the issues clearly before we can make conscious decisions about how to live in the most beneficial way. Look at people who smoke cigarettes. They know that smoking will eventually kill them if something else doesn’t do it first. But they smoke anyway. They have made a choice. What I suggest is that we all make a conscious choice about how we want to deal with the stresses in our lives. Do we want to let stress run wild through our lives like a pack of hyenas? Or do we want to improve the quality of our lives through a conscious act of will. The choice is ours.
In the following chapters we are going to explore some ideas that will be familiar and some that will be new to you. It is common for people to be skeptical of new ideas. I actually encourage fair minded skepticism, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of your willingness to explore the unfamiliar in a search for that which is true in life. In fact, this is the basis of the scientific approach to life.
Many of us grew up being told to believe without question what our elders believed. In this day of information availability we now realize that everything our elders taught us was not actually true. If we assume they were sincere in their efforts we can surmise that belief in an idea isn’t sufficient in life. We must put our ideas to the test. Experience is the ultimate verification of that which we believe: do our beliefs actually work. And this is what I encourage you to do with these ideas on how to manage the stress in your life. It is only through your own personal experimentation and implementation of these precepts and techniques that you will actually find out if they are true.