THE TRUTH: The same mental gifts of imagination and creativity are the source of the physical and mental side effects of pressure, tension and anxiety. You not only get mad at your boss for cutting your conversation short by answering the phone, at your loved ones for not noticing how sick and tired you are of a particular situation, and at the service technician on the phone whose accent made his words barely perceptible as he made you answer a million questions before issuing you a repair order…but you “relive” these scenarios in your brain the rest of the day.
Each time you replay one of these incidents, you might as well be taking a swig out of a bottle of poison. The thought of a stressful event has the same detrimental effect on the body as the original occurrence. Norepinephrine strains your muscles, suppresses your immune system, slows your digestion (which could lead to being overweight), disrupts your sleeping (another factor in weight gain), taxes your cardiovascular system, fuels depression, decreases your sex drive, causes memory loss, hair loss, and loss of friends and colleagues. Even the anticipation of a stressful event increases the poison in your bloodstream.
THE PROBLEM: Our society is also to blame for the venom that is attacking our bodies. We were taught to respond to the stresses of life by accomplishing more, pushing ahead, striving for excellence, getting it right, hiding our sweat, and plastering a smile on our faces. Workplace stress is as toxic as smoking and high blood pressure. There should be warning signs above the company doors saying, “Caution. Walking inside could be hazardous to your health.”
What is worse, people who have mastered the “calm and cool” look are even more susceptible to the toxic effects of stress. Churning on the inside is worse than showing a little vulnerability on the outside. However, on the other extreme, those who take out their anger, tension, pressure from competition and deadlines, and fear on alternate targets (in traffic, with family, or beating themselves up) are no better off than those who have taught themselves to feel nothing.
Here are some tips that could provide the antidote to the poison of stress:
BRAIN TIP #1: Breathe. Take “pay attention breaks” throughout the day and consciously regulate your breathing.
BRAIN TIP #2: Lighten up on your commitments and obligations. Learn to delegate and to say “no” without feeling guilty. Prioritize what is critical to get done, identifying what you can let slide or let go of.
BRAIN TIP #3: Avoid situations that provoke you as much as possible. Use the Internet to do your banking and grocery shopping. Let go of friends that do not support who you want to be and how you want to feel.
BRAIN TIP #4: Ask for what you need. If people are pushing you, ignoring you, and disrespecting you and your time, determine what you need for them to do instead and ask for it. Then ask for it again if you have to.
BRAIN TIP #5: Slow down. Walk more slowly. Talk more slowly. Eat more slowly. Listen to your friends and family with ease and grace.
BRAIN TIP #6: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Notice what is irking you, and then pick your battles and your worries.
BRAIN TIP #7: Choose your emotions. You are much more creative, productive, and fun to be with when you feel happy, amused, grateful, proud, excited, and in love. Stop everything, look inside to see what is going on, and then choose how you want to feel instead.
Don’t let life push you around. Stand up to it and choose who you want to be and how you want to feel. You will be healthier and enjoy your life for many years to come if you do.