Stress is a big deal in midlife. It is everywhere. It plagues us at home. It travels with us on the road. It sleeps with us at night.
Compared to today’s multitasking, time-challenged, cyber-stressed baby boomers, cave people led relatively stress-free lifestyles. Between family and financial demands, working overtime, rapidly changing technologies, time compression, corporate downsizing, and caregiving for older relatives, people in midlife are struggling with more stressors than previous generations have ever experienced.
Life is stressful. Eliminating stress entirely is not an option.
Stress can and does happen even when you have your life in order. Stress can recede in one area and increase in another. Just as you get your finances in order, your relationship goes sour. Get your relationship together and a family member becomes ill.
This is life.
Andrew Weil, MD, in Healthy Aging says, “the goal of managing stress is to change your reaction to stress.” Stress is simply your body’s way of reacting to your mind’s messages. What messages do you tell yourself all day long? Most of us spend our day thinking of negative, stressful events that are in the past or events that may happen in the future.
Echart Tolley, author of The New Earth says, “Most stress comes from the resistance of not accepting what is and not taking action to make a change in the situation.”
The first step is to get clear about the issue and then take action on the problem or situation that creates your stress. In addition, it is critical to learn new ways to manage your perception of stress. How we react to crisis or disturbing events is mainly a matter of old habits and beliefs.
We need to become aware of how we respond to stress and the thoughts we are thinking, and then consciously move out of those negative thoughts by bringing our mind back into the present moment. If you practice this “being in the moment” technique along with other relaxation techniques, you can reduce your stress significantly.
Do you ever really get relaxed?
Whatever stress you have to deal with, you can learn to activate the relaxation response. You can do this in many ways, some of which are: by working with your breath, practicing yoga, meditating, floating in water, walking in nature, and playing with animals. When I develop a client’s wellness assessment, I always ask: What is the major source of stress in your life? What do you do to relax? Have you ever had any relaxation training?
The answer to the last question is usually “no.” Many people tell me they have a drink, watch television, go on vacation and/or exercise. Some of these activities may or may not be relaxing, and most of them do not elicit the relaxation response.
To experience the healing benefits of deep relaxation or the relaxation response, the mind needs to be focused through meditation or on other repetitive mental activities that help the body respond with a dramatic decrease in heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and metabolic rate. Our body responds in the opposite way of the flight or fight response. We do have the amazing ability built into our cells to heal and rejuvenate our bodies if we just slow down and relax.
Take an inventory of your life in order to identify the ways that you can activate and cultivate deep relaxation. Remember, to benefit from relaxation this needs to be done regularly and consciously. The next time your have a stressful event notice if you have been able to change your perception of the stressful situation. This life change practice takes awareness and practice. Keep at it!