Feeling under pressure most of the time is not good for your health. If you are feeling hassled by life, with people, who you would normally expect to cope with, getting on your nerves, the strains on you will be beginning to show; nervous tension, sleeping poorly, or getting more than an ordinary amount of headache, upset stomach, back pain, and short illnesses.
As everyone knows reducing stress in your life can make you a happier and healthier person. But what to do about it to get lasting relief?
There are plenty of remedies for stress around.
The trouble is many of the usual ways of coping with stress are just illusory solutions, such as being distracted by an exotic holiday location, or relying on alcohol or medication to calm you down: these can only provide temporary relief.
Some remedies like regular physical exercise and healthy eating are more helpful in the longer run: also taking regular rest breaks, reducing the number of activities in an over-busy schedule and learning better how to relax.
However, there is likely to be resistance to these things built into your way of thinking. You resort to comfort eating, feel too weary to go for that brisk walk, feel you can’t spare time from work. Perhaps you just feel too tense to attempt to relax properly.
One way continuing stress shows up is depressed mood. A study published by the American Medical Association, estimated that ‘depression’ costs American employers $44 billion in lost productivity every year.
A survey reported by CFO magazine for corporate financial executives summarised the reasons why high achieving employees quit their jobs. Out of the five potential causes cited by HR professionals that top-performing employees would leave, not one of the reasons included stress. However, when asked privately the employees reported work-related stress as the number one factor for leaving a company. What makes this misunderstanding even more startling is that those same HR professionals acknowledged that workers have been working longer hours than normal for the past three years – and will most likely continue the overworked pace for the next three years. We might speculate that this is due to the recession although these days long hours seem to be built into the industrial climate in America and some other capitalist countries. We might ask about the emotional state of those employees still in their jobs working in such a culture? Such a pace of work doesn’t seem sustainable. Why don’t they leave too for less demanding work? Why can’t some people just say ‘no’ to unreasonable demands made on them?
The cause of stress is partly within ourselves
People seem to vary as to how much stress they can deal with before reaching their own breaking point. The cause of stress is something outside of oneself but don’t some of us also add to the load that life weighs down on us by having unrealistic hopes and fears? Excessive demands are a bad thing, but often they come from yourself. Being on the go all the time and you may become exhausted. Expect to get promoted and you may feel more held back and agitated if you are not. Look forward with certainty to having a child and you may feel more disappointment if you do not get pregnant.
I would suggest what is required is an expansion of our focus to include not only the problem but also what is most meaningful and valuable in our lives. And I believe this is how spiritual teachings can help: they oblige us to reflect on how our feelings are affected by our beliefs about how things should be.
The stress of being alone
In his book Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea, Steven Callahan describes how when he was sailing across the Atlantic alone, his boat struck something and sank. He was set adrift on a rubber life raft struggling to survive.
“Deprivation seems a strange sort of gift. I find food in a couple hours of fishing each day, and I seek shelter in a rubber tent. How unnecessarily complicated my past life seems. For the first time, I clearly see a vast difference between human needs and human wants. Before this voyage, I always had what I needed — food, shelter, clothing, and companionship — yet I was often dissatisfied when I didn’t get everything I wanted, when people didn’t meet my expectations, when a goal was thwarted, or when I couldn’t acquire some material goody. My plight has given me a strange kind of wealth, the most important kind. I value each moment that is not spent in pain, desperation, hunger, thirst, or loneliness.”
A Buddhist perspective on stress
From a Buddhist perspective the problem of stress is to do with an attachment to something. If you are feeling impatient and frustrated and want something in a hurry, what idea are you clinging on to? It is likely to include the word ‘must’. “I must have more money”, or “more success”, or “immediate gratification”, or “more appreciation”. “I must be right.” “Must get my own way.”
Confusing what one must have with what one needs.
A Swedenborgian perspective on stress
According to spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, peace and contentment (the opposites of stress and tension) are spiritual qualities: and you will be disappointed in so far as you prioritise the things of the world rather than the things of the spirit. In other words, if you have a mainly self-centred way of looking at things and place materialistic goals at the centre of your life – looking first towards excessive consumption, social status and bodily pleasure – then anxiety is inevitable.
Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems