I talk a lot about empowering people to live life on purpose. This deals with your direction – your “why” for living. It also has an intimate connection to the stresses we feel on a day-to-day basis. Understanding our purpose for living and aligning our schedules accordingly helps relieve some of the stresses we experience – BUT it doesn’t eliminate them.
Stress has always existed, but today it is more chronic and has become a part of our modern day lifestyle. Most medical doctors believe that stress is a critical factor in a person’s health and well-being. And there are helpful resources like Stress Solutions University, with my friend Lauren Miller, that offer insights on coping with stress.
It’s important to know that stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response to what happens to us. Different people will go through the same situation and experience diverse levels of stress. It’s a physiological response to the perceived pressures we encounter. And there is a strong spirit-body-mind connection.
Our brains send messages to our vital organs – heart, muscles, digestive system, blood pressure, bladder, colon, sexual organs, etc. 75-90% of primary care visits are stress related.
Stress is our body’s response to any kind of demand or constraint. It can be good or bad.
- Exercise would be a good stressor. It’s good stress because it makes us healthier.
- Solving problems is a good stressor. It’s a key component of learning.
- Experiencing childbirth is a good stressor. The stress can be overdone, but up to a point it’s positive.
- Writing this blog is stressful, but productive.
Stress and productivity can be partners. It can drive you, unless it drives you into the ground. The point? Chronic stress makes us less productive.
Add to that the toxic ways of coping with stress, and fuel is poured onto the fire. Over eating, eating the wrong things, excessive drinking, smoking, manipulative behavior, wrong or premature relationships, anger, are some of the toxic ways used to seek comfort. It’s natural to seek comfort, but these ways are temporary and short-term. They initiate the vicious “cycle of doom”, creating more stress.
Here are 2 things to understand if stressed is to be managed.
1. Take charge of your imagination. Dr. Martin Rossman refers to our imagination as the Rosetta Stone of the mind, body, and spirit. Imagination is the most involved mechanism we have when promoting and relieving stress. It could be the most beautiful day of the year with your family and close friends, and with our imaginations we can experience full-throttle stress overload. It’s about living with worry and/or regret. We are the only animal on earth that has the ability to do this. It’s a wonderful gift. Everything we have is a result of imagination. And worry is useful for solving problems – but only up to point. The danger comes from living in the past with repetitive regret, or living in the future going from one problem to the next.
Our minds act like a flight simulator where we watch ourselves crashing over and over again. We rewind the tape and do it all over. It’s a bad habit. And habits can only be changed if we are aware of them.
2. Understand how your brain works. Your brain includes both your conscious mind and your subconscious mind. You cannot delete anything from your subconscious mind. Be thankful for that. It keeps you breathing and remembers every cell in your body. Your conscious mind is sending out messages to your subconscious mind. Some messages could be from the past in the form of regret, or from the future in the form of worry. But the subconscious has no concept of the past or future. 10 days ago and 10 days from now are like “now.” And the responses, which impact your vital organs, are created in real time. The subconscious only sends out 2 messages – “everything is okay”, or “watch out!” It shoots out a stress response or a relaxation response, all being fed by your conscious mind, feeding it information from the past or future. And those messages hit your body in wave after wave in the present.
We need to learn to use our imaginations skillfully. Become aware of your thinking habits so your imagination doesn’t run over you. A horse – 1300 pounds – is strong and powerful. With some training that power becomes strength under control. Our imaginations make us the most powerful creatures on earth. Wisdom is learning how to use this powerful ability – how it works and how it wrecks.
In Part II we’ll look at ways to master our imagination so that it becomes a rich road to insight.