"If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment." ~ Marcus Aurelius
Stress is simply the inability to cope -- not something to avoid...
In between meals and conversations during this past Thanksgiving holiday, I ran across several internet pieces and blog posts online with tips for avoiding stress. While much of the "advice" appeared useful to a minimal degree, I found it disappointing that all of the lists offered only tips for avoiding stress but none of them even touched upon coping with it. There is a difference -- the former is a "quick fix" and the latter is a "tool" that can be used again and again...
In my personal experience, and in that of others I have observed, having a strong coping mechanism is the most effective means of stress reduction. Avoiding stress may yield short-term value but is seldom a long-term solution. Not only do many people read useless lists, such as the ones we see repeated each holiday season, but they spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on short-term "remedies" to reduce stress...
Fortunately, after seeing many of the regurgitated lists served up each holiday season, I found an article from Smart Money magazine (print version only), called "Unwinding," that appeared useful in strengthening the reader's coping mechanism. Here are a few key excerpts:
"Continual stress can damage the brain, but that harm can actually be reversed. The brain circuits associated with memory and decision making, which shrink during intense stress, will stretch back to normal if the pressure eases up after a few weeks. Better yet, our neurons -- the cells that allow us to think and perceive -- can multiply throughout our lives..."
"Yin and yang, as even most Westerners know, are oppositional forces, like stillness and motion. According to Taoist philosophy they coexist not just in the body but in all things. For us the problem is clearly too much motion and not enough stillness..."
"Get more sleep, because sleep deprivation drives up cortisol levels and increases stress; spend more time with friends, because strong social connections strengthen our resilience to stress; exercise regularly and meditate every day..."
The author of the piece found that meditation on a regular basis was just as effective, if not more so, than a "destination spa" costing up to $8,000 for seven nights. What's more, meditation does not have to cost anything, can be done for 15 to 20 minutes per day, and does not require a reservation!
Of course, it helps to have the kind of personality or "hard wiring" that can naturally deflect anxiety but having the right kind of "tool" for stress reduction that works best for the user, both as a human and an as an individual, is essential. Do you have a coping tool? Have you even sought one?
In addition to meditation or prayer, you may have already guessed that I have found that philosophy is an outstanding tool for strengthening and maintaining a strong coping mechanism. If it is part of a regular "diet" of consumption, philosophy makes for a powerful coping mechanism because it promotes self-awareness, simplicity, and moderation, among other things, and allows for a realistic perspective on life. Here are just a few of my favorite pieces of wisdom for your quick consumption:
"Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom." ~ Buddha
"Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight." ~ Benjamin Franklin
"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." ~ Albert Einstein
"A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety." ~ Aesop
"Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop." ~ Ovid
"One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important." ~ Bertrand Russell
"Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished." ~ Lao Tzu