Taking the Stress Out of Modern Life

Cenarth Falls 1

Cenarth Falls, Ceredigion, South West Wales

Cenarth Falls is a cascade of waterfalls at Cenarth, between Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. It is a peaceful village with beautiful walks around the falls; just right for relaxation.

In these busy days, too many people feel that they have no time to relax. Making a living is such a stressful activity that they feel they must devote as much time as possible to caring for their material needs and those of their families. Sadly, this often means not having time to spend with family members. In fact, many people spend so much time paying for their acquisitions that they do not have time to actually use those items.

Why Do We Need to Relax?

Most of us will have read about the studies proving that relaxation is good for our health. This is especially true in regard to the health of our heart. According the the British Heart Foundation, stress is recognised as one of the key triggers for heart attacks.

Stress can also exacerbate other health problems, such as stomach ulcers and back pain.

The greatest effect, of course, is on mental health. Personnel Today tells us that stress is the top cause of long term sickness absence.

Therefore, if only for the sake of our health, we need to reduce out stress levels. However, what about the effect on our relationships?

Stress and Relationships

Stress can be a serious cause of relationship breakdown. When we are stressed, we fail to treat others in the way that they deserve to be treated. We argue more, and nothing seems to satisfy us. Everyone we deal with seems to irritate us.

Then, as our relationships suffer, so do our stress levels, causing a vicious cycle of stress that breaks down, not only our relationships, but also our own mental health, which affects our relationships even further.

These relationships are many and varied. Although we often think of relationships in terms of our family, we also have relationships with our friends, our work colleagues, and the authorities.

Cenarth Falls 2

What Causes Stress?

I’m sure that you can make up your own list, here, but the following should cover many of the daily stress-causing situations:

  • Money worries – usually insufficient funds to pay our way
  • Relationship worries
  • Breakdown in communication
  • Chronic personal health issues
  • Family health problems
  • Getting married
  • Separation or divorce
  • Having children
  • Children leaving home
  • Death of a loved one
  • Work – not having a job
  • Work – having too much to do
  • Work – not having enough to do
  • Work – stressful environment
  • Work – stressful colleagues

I’m sure that you could add many more stress factors to this list, but this is enough to go on with.

How to Relax

There are many ways to relax and reduce stress. Let’s look at a few of them.

Make a list. Making a list of required tasks is one way to deal with stress. Now, some people would say that seeing this list would cause more stress because of how big it is. However, making such a list will help you to feel that you are in control of the situation. You will see that there are several items on your list that can be tackled very quickly, which will reduce the list significantly.

Remember the 80/20 rule. The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, says that 80% of the stress is caused by 20% of the problems. But the opposite is also true. 20% of our activity can deal with 80% of our tasks if we tackle them in the right order, and that should deal with 80% of our stress. So look for those tasks that can have a major effect on our workload and mood, and tackle these first.

Decide what is most important. Why? Because much stress is caused by knowing that we are not dealing with those things that are most important. For example, how many people sit at their desks late into the night worrying about not being at home with their family? Then, because they are thinking about the family, they are less effective in their work, which means the work takes longer and they spend even more time away from the family.

Simplify. Simplifying our lives is one of the greatest ways to reduce stress. De-cluttering our environment, our associations, and the other aspects of our lives gives us more time to focus on what matters most, which will reduce our stress levels.

Meditate. Meditation is a way to de-clutter the mind. I don’t believe in emptying the mind. We are not made for that. But spending time thinking about the various situations that we are facing will help us to work through the issues. We can focus mindfully on one area of concern and work through various scenarios that may help us to deal successfully with them. By identifying potential strategies that are likely to fail we avoid stress induced by failure. By identifying potentially successful strategies, we simplify our tasks and reduce our stress because we succeed more often.

Take Time Out. Never make the excuse that you do not have time to relax. Taking time away from your anxieties may seem impossible. Taking time away from your workload may seem unrealistic. Taking time away from your responsibilities may be irresponsible. Yet it is important that we take time out for ourselves at regular intervals. By regular, I don’t mean according to a structured timetable, of course. That could actually cause stress.

However, to take time out for ourselves is important. We need time to relax. It may be as simple as making ourselves a warm drink and curling up on the sofa for ten minutes’ silent reverie. Or it may be a matter of taking ourselves off to a favourite restaurant and eating a meal on our own. It may mean a walk in a relaxing environment such as in these photographs. It may even mean staying in bed for a few minutes after everyone else gets up, or going to bed a few minutes before everyone else. The important thing is to have time for ourselves.

One way to achieve this is to set aside time each week to have such relaxation. As mentioned, above, this does not have to be a structured schedule. However, we could set aside, say, fifteen minutes on Friday afternoon as being our time if no other opportunity presents itself during the week.

So, for example, it may be that on Wednesday we find that the children have gone to visit friends for an hour before our spouse gets home from work. Take the opportunity for a few private moments.

Or it may be that our partner takes the children to some sports practise on Saturday afternoon. Could he or she give us a ride to the nearest coffee shop and collect us on the way home?

There are all sorts of opportunities; we just have to be alert to look for them and take advantage of them when they arise. Still, if such opportunities do not present themselves, we have our scheduled fifteen minutes on Friday afternoon.

Breathe. As noted in an earlier post, Take a Deep Breath – It Will Improve Your Vision, breathing can be a great way to relax. Psychologists and mindfulness practitioners alike recommend deep breathing for relaxation. Our breath is one of the few things that we take with us wherever we go. Therefore, it is always available for relaxation practise. And deep breathing settles us far quicker than any other activity.

Cenarth Falls 3

Keep a Journal.

Writing about our issues is a great way to work through them. Many people write around 1,000 words per day. That’s about three pages of an A5 notebook.

What should you write about? It doesn’t matter. Most practitioners recommend a “stream of consciousness” approach wherein you write about whatever comes into your mind. For example:

I had to get the back brakes on the car replaced, yesterday. It was an expense that I could have done without. That cat is crying, again; I’ll have to complain to my neighbour. She leaves the cat outside in all sorts of weather. The thing is, I need the car to get to work.

And so on.

The idea is that you deal with things as they come to mind. Then, having dealt with most of the minor issues in writing, you can simply forget them and move on to more important issues.

With the more important issues, you may want to devote an entire day’s journal entry to them; or even a few days. Try discussing them with yourself on the page. Or imagine that you are writing to a trusted friend. Although you will be writing both sides of the dialogue, it can help you to take a step back and look at yourself from someone else’s point of view.

It is also recommended that you write your journal first thing every morning. I have never read any reason for this, but I have a theory about it.

I’m sure that, like me, you have often been advised to “sleep on it” when faced with a decision or problem. This is good advice. My experience is that if I write about an issue before going to sleep, the issue crystalizes in my mind; and we know that crystals grow of their own accord!

However, I have often gone to bed thinking, “ I must write about this in the morning,” only to wake up wondering what it was that I wanted to write about. Why? Because these issues that seem so important when we are tired are much reduced when we are refreshed. “Sleeping on it” seems to cure many problems. In consequence, we are able to deal with those issues that really are important, rather than wasting time and energy on matters that only cause stress despite how unimportant they may be.

You Can Relax

There is no doubt that we all need to learn to relax. Interestingly, if you were to think of an acquaintance whom you admire for their calm disposition, and if you were to ask them how they manage to stay so calm, apart from giving you some advice, they will probably tell you that they are not always that way.

You may be very surprised to learn this. However, ask them what they mean. They will probably tell you that they have to continually work on it. They may be naturally inclined towards calmness, but that does not mean that it is impossible for them to get stressed. What it means is that on those occasions they have to practise stress-relieving activities.

You may never see them practising. But the exercises are there. It’s just that they come so naturally to these people. In fact, they come naturally to you. Did you know that? Think about it. How often have you given someone the advice to take a deep breath? Therefore, why is it so difficult when we are in a stressful situation?

Remove Yourself From the Problem

The reason it is so difficult is that we are personally involved. If we were watching an argument from the side-lines, it would be easy to pick out the flaws on either side. But when we are involved, there seems to be only one correct version – ours.

What, then, about removing ourselves from the situation? How can we distance ourselves from the problem?

Try this: As you sit here, reading this article, try to imagine that there is another you standing five feet away, watching yourself reading. What do you see? What is the real you doing? Where are your eyes focused? Are they always on the text? Or do they dart about elsewhere? How often are you blinking? Why?

What are your hands doing? Are they still? Or are they fingering a pen, mouse, keyboard, or some other item in front of you?

Examine your breathing. Are you breathing peacefully? Or are you excited? Or bored?

This exercise may appear strange, at first. But with practise it can become second nature.

Then, when you are embroiled in a difficult situation, try the same exercise. Look at your demeanour. Is it calm? Or angry? Is your breathing normal? Or rapid? Are your hands relaxed? Or clenched into fists? Are your words kind? Or argumentative? What do you notice about the person with whom you are speaking?

Once this practise becomes a part of your outlook, you will be surprised at how much calmer you will feel.

Modern life is, undoubtedly, stressful. Yet we can cope with it in a peaceful, and peaceable, way. We can take the stress out of modern life. It takes time and effort. But it is time and effort well spent.

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6 thoughts on “Taking the Stress Out of Modern Life

  1. And exercise – Seems counter intuitive to say you have to exercise to relax, but that’s the way it is for me. Even if I walk every day I will start to get irritable after a week without a run/cycle/x-country ski/etc. or two… Good post.

    Like

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