What is Stress?
You are finally home after a long day at work. It's time to relax. You ease yourself into your new sofa. Without even realizing it, soon your mind is back at work. You think about how your day went: that annoying customer; the ungrateful, greedy boss; the jealous, selfish co-worker.
Finally, your husband arrives exhausted and complaining about all of the annoyances he went through during the day. He also expresses his worries about the bleak economic future for the family.
On the answering machine, you hear a reminder about your appointment the next day with your doctor to discuss the result of your biopsy. What if the biopsy turns out to be cancerous? A wave of shivers runs through your body. In bed, you toss and turn but sleep is miles away. At 2 am, you pop some sleeping pills and manage to get four hours of sleep.
At the physician's office your biopsy report is fine, but your weight is up, blood pressure is high and your blood sugar is also borderline high. Later, on the way back to work, you can't help but think about your dad, who couldn’t walk in his old age due to a stroke caused by his high blood pressure and your mom, who lost her eyesight because of diabetes.
Suddenly, you feel your heart pounding, chest tightening, and body losing all of its strength. Next, you wake up in the emergency room at a hospital ............
The Stress of daily living has horrendous consequences. Everyone suffers from it to a certain degree. People reluctantly accept it. "This is part of life and there’s nothing you can do about it." In this way, they rationalize their stressful living.
Is it possible to be free of stress? Don't you need to fully understand stress before you can be free of it? Stress comes in many forms. For the sake of discussion, I divide stress into two types:
· Outer stress
· Inner Stress
Outer stress is what we generally refer to when we talk of stress. This is the stress due to an external factor, often out of our control, such as loss of a loved one, losing a job, missing a flight.
These are basically situations which keep happening, one after another. There are brief periods when we get some relief. You may think, “Ah! Finally I have no stress,” but before you know it, some other stressful situation arrives.
For example, after years of hard work, you finally have the ideal job you always wanted. You have a nice house, a nice car and a wonderful family. Then one day, you have a serious car accident and spend the next several weeks on crutches. Finally, you’re back at work, but find out that your company is in financial trouble. Soon, you’re laid off. Lack of a job, obviously, creates a huge stress. A few months later, your wife is diagnosed with cancer. While she’s undergoing chemotherapy, you find out you need heart bypass surgery. In the meantime, your teenager is having problems with teachers. You find yourself a frequent visitor to the principal’s office.
Another example: You finally reach the retirement that you’ve been dreaming of for years. Soon after retirement, you discover that you have prostate cancer, for which you undergo surgery. As a complication of surgery, you can no longer control your urine. A few months later, your wife falls, breaks her hip and ends up in the hospital. In the meantime, your daughter calls to let you know that she is going through a divorce and will need financial aid from you.
Well, you get the idea of the many types of outer stresses that we encounter in our lives!
Inner stress, on the other hand, is a different animal. It’s there all the time. With few exceptions, everyone is suffering from it. It stays with you wherever you go.
What is this inner stress? It’s the feeling of restlessness, agitation, emptiness, worthlessness, sadness, boredom, frustrations, annoyances, anger, hate, jealousy, guilt, fear, nervousness and anxiety.
Where does this inner stress come from? If you pay close attention, you’ll find that this inner stress comes from your own inner voice, the voice in your head that never stops even though you have nothing to solve. Often you’re completely unaware of it. It’s like your mind is on autopilot.
· You’re home after work. Now’s the time to relax, but your mind keeps replaying all that happened at work: the demanding customers, the selfish boss, the insensitive co-workers.
· You find yourself criticizing others even though you’re sitting alone. You’re still trying to win the argument you had with your spouse, a week ago… in your head.
· You experience a low level of irritability when there is no obvious reason for it.
· You think to yourself: “No one, even my spouse, understands me. No one really cares about me. They’re all only interested in my money.”
· You feel the urge to keep doing something, even if you’re on a vacation and supposed to be relaxing.
· You push yourself constantly, even though you have many accomplishments. You feel like you’re in the race all the time and you have to win at all costs.
· You feel dissatisfied and bored with your apparently successful life.
· You become agitated over some political or social issue. Reading a newspaper or watching the news makes you angry at the world.
· No one understands your point of view, but you think you could save the world if all the morons out there would only listen to you!
· You’re on vacation but find yourself complaining about the flight, the hotel, the food, the weather, the beach, the people, etc.
· You feel low and depressed even though you have everything going for you.
· You feel rushed and tired all the time without any medical reason for it.
· You’re afraid of losing your job, your health, your looks, your possessions, your respect, your fame, your credibility.
· You’re afraid of losing planet Earth. The destruction of mankind is looming.
· You’re afraid that you may fail as a parent or a spouse. You feel you may not be able to fulfill all responsibilities at home, at work or in society at large. You’re afraid of being a failure.
· You’re sad because you’ve been a failure in life. You have nothing to show for all your struggles to succeed.
· You’re furious because life has been so unfair to you.
· You’re furious at publishers for not accepting your wonderful manuscript.
· You’re mad at your mother, father, unfaithful spouse, insincere friends or elementary school teacher.
· You’re mad at the teenagers of today. You believe the world is coming to an end.
· You hope for a better future.
· You feel lucky to live in a particular city and a particular country and deep down, you’re afraid that one day, you may lose your paradise.
· You love your glorious past (because the present does not appear to be so good).
· You want to change the world the way you want (because you’re dissatisfied with how things are at this moment).
· You’re angry at people who look a certain way as well as those who belong to certain religions or political parties you disapprove of.
· Complaining is your favorite pastime.
· You wish the world was a better place.
· You feel frustrated you can’t kick your habits of excessive eating, smoking, drinking or shopping even though intellectually, you understand their harmfulness.
· You hear a nagging voice in your head saying you’re not good enough, you’re lazy, you’re a loser, you’ll be late again or you’ll embarrass yourself.
· You often hear these kind of nagging voices in your head: what if, what will I, what may, this should not have happened, or why didn’t this happen, why didn’t I, why did I….
· You’re mad at yourself. “How could I be so selfish, deceitful, immoral, dishonest….”
Who is this inner voice that torments you and creates all of your inner stress, even when there’s no stressful situation? If we could figure this out, if we could get to the root of it, then we could do something about it, right?