If you want freedom, rethink your response to stress. While some stress is normal as we adapt to changes in our life, people experiencing excess stress tend to binge on booze, drugs, sex, computer time or spending money. They also suffer from physical symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems and fatigue. You can take a different path. Test your stress IQ against the following cultural myths and gain some real insights about your health.
1. Your partner/boss/bills/commute is the real cause of your stress. If you just eliminate the cause, your life will be good again.
False. Stress is the result of a core thought we have about ourselves or the world. Beliefs such as “I’m not good enough” or “I’m unlovable” lead us to believe we understand why we are struggling. In reality, those thoughts are just fertilizer for more problems because they are not the truth. It takes self-awareness, formed through practices, including meditation or contemplative prayer, to trace troubles back to their root, but it’s worth it. Confront negative thoughts with a simple question: “Is it true?” For example: “No, I am lovable. My brother, Hector, loves me and so does my kid.” This teaches the mind that we are in charge of it.
2. Exercise eliminates stress.
False. Those sweet endorphins that spin through our bodies after a long bike ride or boxing class are nature’s way of keeping us in balance. But exercise reduces stress, it doesn’t eliminate it. By working out, we are preparing our bodies to better handle the effects of stress. Since some stress is a normal life experience, being prepared to handle the consequences of it are essential. So hit the gym, already!
3. Sex is awesome for stress reduction.
False. Sexual activity does reduce stress, but using sex as anti-stress medicine will take a toll on your relationship. The purpose of sexual activity is to connect intimately with your partner, deepening your capacity for passion, love and self-giving. But under stress, sex can quickly become an addiction, dehumanizing your partner and reducing your ability to connect intimately with her or him. A healthy romantic relationship that includes consistent intimacy on all levels is the right preparation against stress.
4. Persistent backaches, nausea, headaches, neck and shoulder pains are normal problems in today’s world.
False. The body reflects the mind. So persistent physical symptoms are signals that you are flunking self-care. Get more sleep, have a massage, work with a trainer or challenge your thoughts (see No. 1). If the pain continues, see your doctor or a counselor.
5. The best way to handle fear, anger, depression and other stress-related emotions is to keep silent. Eventually they will go away.
False. Unprocessed emotions simmer as you silently seethe. And your body will hold that emotion so that eventually, there’ll be a physical or emotional explosion. Instead, confide in a trusted friend, see a counselor, journal or try www.thework.com. Do something to get the poison out of your system before it turns your life toxic.
6. Everybody overreacts at times.
True. But that doesn’t make it right. Heal the thoughts within you that inspire your suffering and stop taking your stress out on your body and the world around you. Life is good when we respond rather than react. That’s a choice we can make when we learn how to manage stress rather than allowing it to manhandle us.