by Walter E. Jacobson · Filed Under: Happiness · Personal Development · Positive Psychology · Relationships · Spirituality · Success · building self esteem · self-help
Common symptoms of stress, particularly prolonged stress, are depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, anger, reactivity, impulsivity. Stress can affect appetite, energy levels, motivation. It can alter one’s perceptions, one’s thoughts, one’s insight and judgment. People who are stressed out just don’t think as clearly, they’re out of balance, disconnected from their higher, intuitive self. More vulnerable to a variety of illnesses, physical as well as emotional.
Stress, in general, weakens the immune system, diminishes the body’s ability to fend off illness and infection, to repair and to heal. Prolonged stress, with its dampening of the immune system, can generate headaches, muscle aches, neck and back aches, constipation, diarrhea, gastro-esophogeal reflux, ulcers. High blood pressure. Heart attacks and strokes. Stress WILL be hazardous to your health.
Stress increases one’s odds of having an accident, because stressed-out people are more easily distracted, not paying attention as best they can, such that an accident happens which otherwise might have been avoided.
If one does suffer bodily injuring secondary to an accident, one who is stressed has diminished capacity to heal and recover from it. When one’s mind and body are in good condition, the odds of recovering from a serious injury are much greater.
Last but not least, it is possible that prolonged stress weakens the immune system to such a degree that one becomes more vulnerable to tumors and cancers.
Ideally, find ways to reduce the stress and eliminate it, if possible. Reducing the stress means recognizing what’s causing the stress, whether it be an exhausting job, financial insecurity, health problems, relationship problems. Whatever might be causing the stress needs to be acknowledged and enumerated.
The next step involves addressing these specific causes of stress in one’s life, perhaps making new decisions, perhaps taking new actions if there are indeed viable options. Make better choices and it’s possible to reduce, if not eliminate, the stressful triggers in one’s life.
Sometimes one can’t reduce or eliminate the stress. Some things are out of our control no matter what choices and decisions we make. In this case, reducing stress means reducing your reaction to stress. Finding ways to accept the difficult situation and co-exist with it, rather than having a physical or nervous breakdown.
In conjunction with trying to “change the things you can” and “accept the things you cannot change,” there are other ways to manage and cope with stress. Good nutrition is important. Eating balanced meals. Staying as far away from fast food and junk food as possible. Keeping the sugar and fat choices to a minimum. Exercising and working out can help dramatically. Meditation. Yoga. Talk therapy. Spiritual / Religious counseling. Vitamin and mineral supplements may help. Sometimes medications can help people deal with their stress. Sometimes medications are necessary, hopefully for just a brief period of time.
When people are stressed, they should avoid watching intense tv shows and movies. They should stay away from the horror, gore and violence. Watch comedies as much as possible. Laughter is healing. It does generate endorphins. Additionally, stay away from too much news. We all want to be informed. But past that, indulging in excessive viewing of the same information, the same message over and over again, is not helpful, particularly if you’re watching news about horrific things happening and yet to come.
When one is under stress, it’s best to try to “think lovely thoughts.” Think positive. Think hopeful, not pessimistic. See the glass as half-full, not half-empty. Make the decision to make lemonade out of lemons. Be grateful for what you’ve got, despite whatever scarcity, limitation, lack or disappointment is in your life.
Try to see the silver lining in the dark clouds. Try to see the difficulties in your life as somehow blessings in disguise. Try to release judgment and attack thoughts despite what has happened to you. Try to forgive.
In stressful times, people and societies can lose their balance, their sense of purpose and intention. This is why, over the long run, it is critical, amidst the stress, fear and chaos, that we maintain as best we can our integrity, our compassion and our humanity.
Happiness in relationships is a choice. Here’s how it works:
Our partner says something we disagree with, whether it be an observation about us, a recollection of something we said or did, or a perspective about the world and its workings.
Rather than let it go or agree to disagree, we oftentimes tend to get caught up in our ego and its need, not just to be right but to have our partner acknowledge that we are right.
And so we make an issue out of who’s right and who’s wrong. We make a mountain out of a molehill. We not only insist on correcting our partner, we insist on nothing less than total capitulation to our point of view.
We continue to get in their face and we refuse to give in because we know we’re right and we’re not going to give them the satisfaction of thinking they’re right and we’re wrong.
We stay at it, we stay adamant, we stay angry and aggressive in making our point, even when it leads to an escalation of negative emotions and very bad feelings about the relationship, which is usually the case.
Oftentimes, nothing is resolved, our partner chooses to remain oppositional to our point of view, and everybody is miserable.
Oftentimes, even in those scenarios where we get our partner to capitulate, to admit their error and our correctness, we still aren’t happy because all the effort it took to get the acknowledgment has generated a tremendous amount of ill will and negative energy.
We got our “You’re right” but at the expense of our happiness and at the expense of the relationship which suffers in the process.
On the other hand, if we decide it isn’t important that we insist we’re right and that we’re okay with them thinking whatever they want to think, then we don’t need to exert any effort to prove or insist upon anything. In which case, we have kept the peace and everybody’s happy.
There are times when the issue we’re discussing is too big, where it’s not about pride or ego, where it really does matter that everybody be on the same page, and where it really is necessary that we clarify who’s right and who’s wrong.
When disagreements along these lines seem to appear, “Choose your battles” becomes the operative concern.
It behooves us to choose our battles in these scenarios, to overlook as much as possible in our partners, to release the need to be critical and correct them, and to not sweat the small stuff as much as possible as well.
But when the issue really matters, we must take a stand, we must speak up and hold our ground because if we don’t, happiness in the relationship will surely not prevail.
There is one other scenario in which happiness will not prevail and that is when we have decided to take the high ground position of “I’d rather be happy than insist I’m right,” but then resent having done so.
This is another example of our ego getting in our way: Despite initially being successful at putting our ego aside in order to do what’s best for the relationship, we allow our ego to jump back into the game.
When this happens, we must remind ourselves that our ego is not our friend, we don’t need its help and we don’t want it involved. And then we let go of the resentment, grateful that we have a relationship that may not be perfect but is nurturing, loving and sustainable.
If we decide we’d rather be happy than insist on people seeing things our way, and we choose our battles such that we very rarely need to insist on anybody seeing anything our way, we will have happier and healthier relationships, there will be more frequent quality time in our relationships, and we will be happier in general because our head won’t be filled with pointless score-keeping and resentments.
True mental fitness requires a capacity for open-mindedness: The ability and willingness to question your beliefs, your biases, your prejudices.
Look at your anger, your rage, your depression, your fears and anxieties. Uncover their triggers and find different ways to look at the stuff of your life. Make wiser and more considerate decisions.
Release selfishness and self-entitlement. Despite how difficult, awful and painful your life might be and how horrible you might feel, it is, nonetheless, necessary to be considerate of other people’s feelings and needs as well, and to not emotionally bleed all over them or abuse them in other ways. Especially your professed loved ones.
Let go of defensiveness and ego defense mechanisms such as denial, rationalization, and projection, among others, which only serve to distort reality and keep true mental fitness at arm’s length.
All that being said, the question remains, “What are the BEST ways to stay mentally fit?”
I spent a fair amount of time with this question, trying to distill mental wellness down to a few common denominators. I decided upon three: Truth. Compassion. Calm.
Apply these three ideals in your life. Practice them on a moment to moment basis as best as you possibly can with everyone, with everything animate and inanimate, with every situation you encounter. Extend truth, compassion and calm. BE truth, compassion and calm.
Tell the truth. Don’t omit. Don’t distort. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Be grateful for the blessings in your life. Share the blessings in your life. Be generous in all ways possible.
Choose not to be impulsive, reckless and over-reactive. Disengage from chaos and melodrama, from judgment and attack. Engage the power of acceptance and one-ness.
As we role model truth, compassion, and calm in all the transactions in our minds and in our lives, we will approach mental wellness and eventual global wellness as well.
We need to re-discover the Now for ourselves because we’re really missing the party. What we are calling the Now is actually the “Now & Then.” Why? Because we bring our baggage from the past into the present moment.
We bring our judgments, experiences, prejudices, biases, resentments, and grievances from the past and throw them on top of whatever’s going on in the present, such that it’s no longer the present moment we’re experiencing, it’s a combination of the past mixed in with the present.
Consequently, we are not perceiving people as they are, we are seeing and reacting to them as we perceived them in the past, with all our judgments and grievances, which contributes to miscommunication, misunderstandings and the furthering of resentments and other negativities.
We do all of this as a survival mechanism, a defense mechanism, so that we can anticipate as much as possible, predict and control as much as possible, so that we won’t get hurt by the world and its chaos.
Unfortunately, this tends not to make us feel any safer or more secure. Additionally, it shuts down our spontanaety. It shuts down the intuitive process. It shuts down our awareness of opportunities and potentials synchronistically delivered to us as answers to our prayers. If we are not in the moment how can we be receptive to its gifts?
1) We try to see people as they really are, not through the eyes of the past. We put aside our judgments and grievances. We remind ourselves that there is another way of looking at any situation.
We try to experience the people, places and things in our lives in the Now without critical analysis. We can do all the analyzing and interpreting later at some other time devoted specifically to thinking and evaluating our experiences.
2) Forget about smelling the roses. We need to smell the entire universe. And so we make a special effort in every moment of Now to experience it, to be attentive to all the sensations entering our consciousness.
This not only centers us and balances us, it also affords us the opportunity to receive intuitive as well as extra-sensory perceptions. As we quiet the mind, we remove the filters to its natural awareness of these components of reality.
A corollary of this is to avoid multi-tasking whenever possible because when our attention is divided amongst many activities or concerns, being in the Now is impossible. So we decide to do one thing and put all our intention and attention into it, avoiding all other distractions and mental considerations.
3) We remind ourselves that there is nothing to fear. In the present moment, in the Now, we are not threatened, we are safe.
There is a popular expression in 12-Step Programs: “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.”
Now, in these harsh, frightening times we live in, it behooves each of us to consider this definition of insanity in the context of our own lives and our own choices.
Now, more than ever, it is important, perhaps even critical, that, rather than doing the same thing and expecting different results, we do something different. Many things different.
For ourselves. For our families. For our country. And for our world.
Now, more than ever, it is important that we pay closer attention to the details of our lives and actions, not merely to avoid accidents, injuries, and a variety of mistakes with potentially serious consequences, but in order to intelligently and critically assess our entire life situation and see which aspects can be repaired, improved upon, and healed, which aspects it might be wise to discard either temporarily or permanently, and which aspects it would benefit us to truly accept and transcend without grievance or resentment.
So that’s what it comes down to in these vigorous and challenging times: We pay closer attention. We make better choices. We weigh the pros and cons carefully. We seek counsel, before we take action, from those we trust who are wise and lead lives that are reasonably intact, so as to avoid impulsive and reckless mistakes.
We make better use of our time.
We choose to be of service to others. Not just in the sense of holding a door for a stranger or taking out the garbage when it’s not our turn. These kindnesses are important. Helping out wherever we can to whatever degree we feel comfortable is important. And healing.
So is being of service to others in the sense of giving others the benefit of the doubt whereas in the past we assumed the worst. Being of service to others in the sense of truly letting go of resentments. Truly letting go of judgments and prejudices. Unconditionally forgiving others despite what they’ve done to us.
I suspect we all do these things to various degrees. I also suspect we don’t do them nearly enough, that there is much more of our compassion and understanding that we can consistently extend to others.
I suspect if we choose to get better at discovering and implementing new choices in all aspects of our lives, we will feel better about ourselves and not quite so afraid, and that we will see our lives improve in the process.
It’s just not that easy, these days, to whistle while we work and row our boat gently down the stream. Nevertheless, these are the very things we need to do. A whole lot of whistling and a whole lot of rowing. Gently.
One way to do this is to stop catastrophic thoughts which feed on our insecurities and magnify our worries, such as: “I’m going to lose my job.” I’m going to lose my house.” “I’m going to have to declare bankruptcy.” “I’m going to get cancer and I won’t have health insurance.” “I’m going to be stuck in my dead-end job forever.” “I’m going to be homeless.” “I’m never going to be able to retire.” “I’m never going to sell my novel.” “I’m never going to catch a break.” “I’m going to be living with my parents forever.” “I’m never going to be rich.” “I’m never going to be happy.” “I’m always going to sabotage my relationships.” “I’m never going to get married.” “I’m never going to have children.” “I’m going to die alone.”
These catastrophic thoughts terrorize us. They flood us with fear. And for what? All the time spent terrorizing ourselves with fear doesn’t make us wiser. It doesn’t make things better.
If anything, catastrophic thinking makes things worse. It contributes to depression, anxiety, irritability, reactivity, impulsivity, low energy, low motivation, impaired attention and concentration, a loss of interest in things we normally like to do, and feelings of demoralization, helplessness and hopelessness.
Catastrophic thinking generates stress which dampens our immune system and our resistance such that we are more susceptible to illness with less capacity to recover and heal.
Over time, chronic catastrophic thinking contributes to our making poor choices that affect our health, our happiness, our relationships and our careers.
All of which is to say: Now is as good a time as any for us to stop catastrophizing. And so we stop dwelling on failure scenarios, regardless of whether they are likely to occur one day or not.
We remember that expression about leaving tomorrow’s anxieties to tomorrow. We tell ourselves that we’ll deal with the catastrophic event in the future, should it happen, that we’re not going to put any energy or angst into it now. We remind ourselves to focus on what’s in front of us today, to keep our eye on the ball.
And so we choose our thoughts carefully, knowing full well that they create our emotional state of mind, regardless of what is happening in our lives and all around us. We reject catastrophic, fear thoughts. We embrace thoughts of self-love, self-acceptance and self-empowerment.
When we find ourselves running a catastrophic “tape loop” over and over again in our head, we remind ourselves that there’s absolutely no point in crying over milk that hasn’t spilled yet.
With right-minded vigilance, practice and perseverance, we can be free of future fears (as well as past pains) and be in the present moment, in the Eternal Now, free to enjoy what is happening, free to be happy, free to be spontaneous, free to make the most of our world and our lives regardless of the obstacles the universe has thrown at us.
Change isn’t easy. When we wish to change ourselves or our relationships, the change will be met with great resistance, from ourselves and others. And it is our responsibility to not waver and backpedal under the pressure of that resistance.
Saying that change is necessary in ourselves and our relationships is not enough. Saying that we want to change ourselves and our relationships is not enough.
Passion, conviction, great hope and great desire will never be enough.
Without consistent, effective actions, our efforts will fail.
Without constant vigilance over our thoughts, our words, our behaviors, our actions and decisions, our efforts will fail.
Without a pushing forward of our ideals despite the resistance, the fear, and the doubts of others, our efforts will fail.
Without truly effective communication that does not waffle, but rather maintains a through line of truth, integrity and honor, our efforts will fail.
Compromise is important in the repair of relationships, but there must be very clear boundaries and deal breakers that cannot be abridged, because if critical aspects of change are not incorporated into the new foundation that is being established, whatever is built up will eventually fall and fail.
If we want to change ourselves, lip service will be eternally insufficient. We must act in the now, make our actions clear and unambiguous, and we must not allow ourselves to be influenced by our ego and the weaker, darker, fearful aspects of ourselves or others.
We must strive to discover our authenticity and mold all our actions such that we are ever moving forward towards our goals to transform ourselves.
Certainly there will be setbacks. Two steps forward, one step back. That’s fine. But we must ever be moving forward. We must ever be keeping our eye on the ball, the goal, the end game.
To gloss over or avoid certain changes because they are difficult and meet with opposition within ourselves or others is to sabotage and defeat ourselves in the long run.
If we want to change our relationships, we must communicate effectively with our partner, not tolerating smoke, mirrors, distortions, misinterpretations, misdirections and lies, whether they are promoted intentionally or not.
We must be the leader in the transformation of the relationship, never allowing aggression and intimidation from our partner to deter us from our leadership role which is to forge the way for new rules of communication, behavior, and mutual respect, such that the needs of all parties concerned will be fairly addressed and met.
We must point out in loving and compassionate ways when old patterns are re-engaged, and not tolerate complacency, regression or stagnation. We must acknowledge and validate efforts that are being made, and by no means can we condone abusive behaviors, passive-aggressive or otherwise.
To change ourselves takes a lot of work. It’s a lifelong process, but the journey is worth it.
To change our relationships so that they are truly loving and supportive, and nurture our continued growth and spiritual evolution is no simple matter, but it’s worth the effort.
If two people come together with a holy purpose of finding and staying on a path of love and peace, it can be done. And in the doing, we role model these behaviors for others, helping them to transform their relationships and, eventually, the whole world in the process.
Although some people might think that seeing all the negatives, all the potentially catastrophic what-ifs in every situation, places them in a superior defensive survival mode, it’s simply not true.
Being an optimist, seeing the glass as half-full rather than half-empty, does not imply or suggest that we lose our grip on reality or on the devastating possibilities in this chaotic, angry, frightened world. It does not mean we are wearing blinders which will prevent us from effectively defending or preparing ourselves.
We do all the critical thinking. We consider all the scenarios, good, bad and ugly. We do it all and we do it just as well as the pessimistic, half-empty crowd.
The difference is that by maintaining a positive outlook, by finding balanced ways of looking at events and their impact on us, we keep fear instincts and emotions in check, thereby avoiding angry, judgmental, aggressive, impulsive actions that are not in anybody’s best interests in the long run.
When we keep our fear thoughts in check and maintain a balanced emotional outlook, we communicate more effectively, we problem-solve more effectively, we discharge our stress and aggression in healthy rather than maladaptive ways, we increase our odds of weathering any storm with minimal personal and collateral damage. We maximize our potential for recovery and prosperity, however we define the term.
Consequently, regardless of how horrible our lives might be, it behooves us to count our blessings, to be grateful for what we have despite whatever lack or limitations we’re faced with, to remind ourselves that things could be worse, that there are many others on the planet who have it a lot worse than we do.
In times of great stress, it can be very beneficial to look for the blessings in disguise, to look for the silver linings, to look for the lessons.
And so we focus on what can go right as opposed to all the things that could go wrong. We stop assuming the worst. We remain hopeful. We keep our mind open to unexpected outcomes, possibilities and alternatives.
And, perhaps most important of all, we remember that seeing the world as half-full vs half-empty is a choice. We don’t necessarily have control over what happens to us, but we do have control over how we perceive what’s happened to us, how we react to it, whether we allow it to demoralize and defeat us or whether we choose to find a way to overcome it and transcend it.
Additionally, keep in mind that being positive is ultimately the only game in town. Regardless of what is going on, in the long run, being positive, optimistic and hopeful, as opposed to choosing negativity, pessimism and hopelessness, will serve you better physically, emotionally and spiritually.
If we want to repair a wounded relationship, beating up our partner by repeatedly expressing our hurt feelings, our anger and our resentments is not the way to do it. Invalidating our partner’s feelings and ignoring their legitimate concerns will prove to be equally ineffective.
If the ultimate goal of communication is reconciliation and forgiveness, then the sooner we stop all behaviors that are about shaming, guilting, and punishing the other person, the sooner we will be able to forgive them and work on the issues that need to be addressed.
If our partner tries to distract us by focusing on semantics and irrelevant sidebars, we acknowledge that this is a smokescreen, one of many devices to distract us and shift our attention from the real issue being raised, and we disengage from the discussion until another time when our partner may be more receptive to constructive dialogue.
We’ll never repair a damaged relationship if we don’t change the dysfunctional dynamics of our communication which is why when our partner uses techniques of defensiveness and aggression that have contributed to the problem in the past, we don’t go down that road. We don’t argue on their playing field. We don’t debate their agenda. We disengage, reinforcing the message that abusive behaviors used in the past will not be tolerated.
Our disengagement strategy must be consistent in order to teach our partner that the only way communication is going to happen is if it is positive, supportive, and nurturing rather than invalidating, angry and shaming, and that by repairing communication in this way we open the door for effectively repairing the relationship.