By Scott Westerman
Even though it’s been more than five years since Colleen’s diagnosis and over two years since she was again deemed cancer free, I still stress out during the week we go to Ann Arbor for her check-ups.

I love to preach how the only moment we can control is the present moment but, in this case, I can’t seem to practice what I preach.

Be KindA favorite Internet meme of mine is, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be Kind. Always.” Whenever I’m in stressful encounters, I try to imagine what battle the person who is stressing me out may be fighting. Often times, our reactions in the moment are the result of a bad day or a painful past that hampers our ability to “be kind – always”. Expressed anger may have nothing to do with the person in its path. Peeling the onion to understand the root cause is essential to living the precept that “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to what happens to you that impacts the ultimate outcome.”

So step one in combatting stress is Awareness. Fully understand what your triggers are.

You may have read the book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.. And It’s All Small Stuff. I disagree with that title. Success is built on attention to detail. But it’s definition is up to you. Once you’ve been a cancer caregiver, there are very few things that are worth stressing about. The visceral understanding of the value of a single human life brings our attachments to material things, past mistakes and potential future trouble into proper focus.

Step two in combatting stress is to decide what is worth worrying about. 

When you truly think about it, most of us have very few things that are truly worth worrying about.

And what about those things that are on that list? Your family’s health and welfare and the contribution you can make to alleviate the suffering of others are really the only two that are worth your attention. Truly successful people have found a way to add value to a large number of lives. Our most cherished memories are often connected with family and friends. In the course of being a caring person, stress is inevitable, and important.

We stress our muscles with exercise to make them stronger. We stretch the limits of our understanding to gain the knowledge we need to be better servants. And we can’t care about someone we love without “feeling their pain”. Stress is a given. The challenge is how use it to make yourself stronger, and how to relieve stress when there is too much of it in your current moment.

The first and most important stress reliever of all time is your breath. “Take a breath,” people tell us when we get excited. “Keep breathing, it will pass,” is the punch line to one of my favorite Buddhist parables.

Step three in combatting stress begins with your breath.

Breathe

Here’s a tool that can help center you when your stress feels like it’s taking control. Breathe in time with the animated gif, above. Inhale as the box expands. Exhale as it contracts. Try it for just 60 seconds and you may see the power that a simple series of breaths can give you to recenter and refocus. Science has shown that as little as 5 minutes of meditation per day can reduce stress, increase energy and impact productivity. Explore the concept of mindfulness and do what you can to live life in the present moment.

And what if none of the things you try on your own do the trick? Elite athletes retain highly trained professionals to help them stay in peak condition. And so it is with your body, mind and spirit. If stress is too much a part of your everyday life, talk with your doctor. Consider hiring your own coach, a therapist, who can help you determine your triggers, their root causes and strategies to turn bad stress into good stress. And practice the regimen they prescribe.

Twitter tells me that today is “National Stress Awareness Day”. Yup. It is. And so is every other day. Learn what causes you stress. Decide whether it really is worth worrying about. Take a few deep breaths to calm your countenance and focus you on activities that can move you forward. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everything everyone has ever achieved happened because of the benevolence of others.

When you get your own house in order, practice step number four in our stress control program. Remember the three important words that can dissolve conflict and anger, build trust and initiate miracles.

Be Kind. Always. 

And this is probably a good time to remind you that the ideas and opinions I share here are my own. Use your own best judgement as you consider them and always consult a professional if you think you may be depressed or have other health issues.

 

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