Stress: When to Say When (Part I)
When we are under a lot of stress, we often don’t like the way we feel, we don’t like the way we treat ourselves and we’re not fond of how we may treat others; but we push through and make it to see another day. The problem most of America is facing right now is: when are we not under a lot of stress? Today, most people wouldn’t even be able to identify a single root cause of their stress, chalking it up to life. It seems as though our bodies are frantically searching around for more things to add to our plate, our minds are on auto-pilot and, subsequently, our spirit is approaching the status of empty or lost.
One of the biggest reasons people find themselves increasingly tense is money. This one appears easy enough from the outside looking in: if your purpose in life is to earn money, then that will not only be your motivation, but it will also become the epicenter of your fears, your doubts, your anxieties and your demise. Why do we need money? To support our families sure, but also to build something; and in today’s America, building something means acquisition of property, assets, credit, power. Growing a family becomes synonymous with graduating from a one-car to a two-car garage, one bathroom ranch to a 2-story and of course a second (or third) vehicle. Are we trying to build a family or a small empire?
For some of us, earning money simply means our survival, which seems much more grave compared to the aforementioned, middle-class paradigm of success: I’m working 50 hours per week just to put food on the table, while the other is working 50 hours per week to cover all of their credit card, mortgage and car payments for which they’re responsible. This is where things get interesting; on one hand, one may argue that the individual earning more money may be happier because they have not only built up their credit, but have also established a sense of dominance or power in conquering time and the financial challenges they have created for themselves. One could simultaneously argue that the low-income earner may be happier because they understand the value of a dollar and a hard day’s work; they have much less to lose and may be pleased with the smaller things in life. Spoiler alert! In America, both are struggling and the pursuit of connectivity between stress and income level may be a fruitless endeavor.
We all pursue different passions, we react differently to varying stressors and we all customize these stressors to our way of life, as we see it. It’s a hackneyed phrase: “money cannot buy happiness”, but it is no more a crime to purchase an arbitrary third vehicle or second story home than it is to spend your money on lottery tickets and cases of Mountain Dew. That scale is relative: the rush you get from your new 6-speed BMW coupe may not compare to one’s rush of slamming 4 Dews and scoring $40 on a scratcher (either way, your handing it over to the big boys). The point is that stress exists everywhere around us and yet we insist on compounding it with unhealthy choices that we can later complain about or worse, regret.
Never mind going bankrupt or being evicted, if our ultimate goal when reaching adulthood is to simply avoid these outcomes, then perhaps we need to re-evaluate our purpose. There are many approaches we can take to manage the stress in our lives, but the first step must be a recognition of the fact that most of the stress in our everyday lives is self-induced. For instance, if you find yourself in an extremely toxic work environment but the money is good, 9 out of 10 of us would still keep the job. Even though this external stress is perceivably not your doing, you are still responsible because you walk in that door every single morning, compromising your happiness and your well-being, presumably (and ironically) for the greater good of yourself or your family.
I use the term ‘ironically’, because if you are not tip-top, neither is your tribe. The toxicity always spills onto something we never intended. But once we start earning, we begin spending and that is the American way. Some of us save what we can, for various purposes, but at the end of the day, is it worth it? Looking for a job is an extremely stressful process and many of us engage in it almost every other year. Within these circumstances, we tend to ask ourselves “what do I need?” and “how do I get it?”, yet rarely are we affording ourselves the opportunity to ask ourselves “why?”
Why do you want that job? Why is that pay raise so important to you? Why does this make you happy? It can get deep, quickly. It is a question that we’re afraid to ask of ourselves and of others, even in casual company; but it’s a significant one, because once we start down the rabbit hole of a 3-year old taunting, “why? why? why?”, we start to truly re-calibrate our priorities. That is the first step. We must start with the question of “why” before we can address the “how” and the “what”.
Similarly, we must ask ourselves “why am I stressed out?”; and once you have reached your conclusion, you can then ask yourself “how can I improve this situation?” or “what steps must I take in order to gain release from it?” I acknowledge that we cannot all just quit our jobs and do the things that make us happy, but I also subscribe to the idea that the world is what we make of it. Stress hits you when you’re most vulnerable and while you may not be able to control your bosses temper, you can control what enters your body.
I’ve always, in a backwards way, paid reverence to the snob; not your everyday hipster or wasp “you’re smaller than me” snob, but the particular type. The music, the food, the art: if it is entering your body, no matter the orifice, then it should be yours to judge, to hate, to like or to snuff (with respect, understanding, and kindness, of which I recognize is not of the “snobbish” tradition). Therefore, the primary concept and pillar of our educational approach is understanding yourself. What makes you happy? What stimulates you? What makes you feel like you’re running on all cylinders? The second concept is understanding others, but to manage every day stress, we must first focus on the self.
There are a number of inward-seeking methods we can employ that could be beneficial, but the tangible concepts must precede the inner work. In order to grasp who we are and why we are, we must be fit. I’m both sorry and pleased to say it, but yes, you must begin eating well and exercising for no less than 20 minutes per day for 3 months before anything happens upstairs or beyond. In conjunction, take an additional daily dose of silence. Even if it’s for 5 minutes, take yourself away from everything you are consciously aware of and breathe. It may sound silly, it may sound challenging, but all you really have to do is breathe.