To stress or not to stress?

Stress. I’m sitting here right now, in beautiful Bali, not a whisper of pollution (traffic or air) around. I have spent the last 3 days enjoying this tropical paradise, drinking from giant coconuts, enjoying the exceptional service of the staff here at this gorgeous hotel. And yet right now, right here, I’m feeling a bit stressed out.

The reason for my stress is that my youngest daughter (nickname Bimble) has an ear and throat infection. She can’t clear her ears. We’ve had to change our flights (and incurred significant financial penalties to do so). We’ve also had scrummage to get an extra night at this (nearly fully booked) 5 star hotel. And I’ve had to change all the social arrangements that we had planned so that we can stay here an extra night, in the hopes that Bimble’s ears can clear. Right now, she’s sitting squeezing her nose and mouth shut while trying to blow air out of that nose, and her eyes are watering and they look like they’re about to pop out. Needless to say, those ears are jammed shut. For now.

Everyone, at some point, feels stressed. Financial stress, relationship stress, work stress, health stress – it’s all there. I know that BC (before cancer) I was highly stressed. My stress involved motherhood, some marriage stress, work stress, body image stress and a lot of others. Like most women, I uttered this phrase “I’m juggling too many balls right now” with far too much frequency. But, also if I’m being honest, with a sense of pride. As if juggling these balls was an invisible badge of honour that women pinned on ourselves. And perhaps, if I’m laying my cards out, how we judged each other as well?

I have been guilty of saying fleeting statements like “it’s so important for the cancer patient to cope with their stress” without quite understanding why. The jury is still out whether there is scientific proof from proper scientific studies done on whether stress causes cancer. But it’s quite reasonable to conclude that we could all do with less stress in our life – wouldn’t you agree?

The ground control centre of our bodies, the nervous system, has two “highways” if you will, that relate to stress – the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous systems (PNS). The SNS is also commonly known as the “fight or flight”, and triggers adrenaline to be released when there is a sudden “stressor”. Example – blare from a horn from a car causes you to jolt and react by jumping out of it’s way. But prolonged stress will also release cortisol. These hormones are there for a reason – they protect us from harm and danger. But too often, we can’t switch this off. And this in turn can lead to a whole lot of other health problems to the body which include weight gain.

We need our PNS to switch off the SNS. The PNS is commonly referred to as our “rest and relax” system. How many times have you either told someone, or been told, to take long deep breaths to relax? Or to do something that relaxes you, such as yoga, meditation, gardening, take a relaxing bath, or to get a massage. These are not just simple ideas. Techniques such as these can switch on your PNS – which is what we want. Different people will relax in different ways. I find swimming stressful, but I also know friends who can swim for an hour because it helps them to relax.  I find stroking my fat, furry cats very calming – until those cats decide they are now stressed out with that incessant stroking and proceed to lacerate my hands with their sharp weapons. Thank you adrenaline, for helping me sense this imminent danger and to make me pull my hand back just in time! Me 1 – Cats 0. (FYI cortisol didn’t get a chance to appear because I was immediately filled with smugness because I’d managed to evade those wretched beasts from attacking me)

The trick is, to find what works for you. And to remember to include it in your life. Daily. We can choose to remain stressed. Think about it. A lot of stressful moments, are created because we actually create that stressful environment in our mind. Okay, a fire in a building is a stress for everyone granted. But traffic? You could be sitting in that traffic jam fuming, while the other guy in the car next to you seems to be singing along to some tunes on the radio, and seems to be enjoying himself – annoyingly so.

The next time you get stressed, take a moment and ask your self these questions :

Do I need to stay stressed?

What can I do right now, to change this situation from a negative one to a slightly more positive one?

What methods can I employ to get me in a more relaxed state of mind?

Can I choose to NOT be stressed? 

Hey I’m not suggesting you suddenly start to chant “ohm” or to go through life absolutely stressed free. That ain’t gonna happen is it? But how’s this for a suggestion? The next time you experience something that causes stress, acknowledge that stress. Realise why you’re stressed, have a silent (or loud) rant. Let the stress have it’s moment to shine! Then shake it off. Don’t let it linger. It’s had it’s moment, but now it’s time for it to take a hike.

Just try it. It’s not easy, but it’s imperative we learn to let go of these negative emotions and thoughts.

So today, sitting on this balcony with its million dollar view, stressed out about Bimble’s ears and the extra money we’ve spent on our flights, stressed out about having to use our Hotel Rewards Points to get us an extra night’s stay in this 5/6 star hotel; I am sitting back and laughing at myself. How many people would love to be stuck in Bali for an extra night? There is nothing important waiting for me at home to get done. We are getting various refunds on the other return flight tickets we aren’t using. And the extra night’s stay is free because we’ve used our points. And the look on my daughters’ faces when I told them we were staying an extra night? Priceless. So right now, having written this blog about stress, I now choose to be calm. Deep breath, Ohm.

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