There are few conditions that we as modern humans are guaranteed to share. Unfortunately, one of those conditions is stress. Stress can take many forms and be caused by a single worry or a piling on of multiple worries. But no matter the cause or causes, stress is a load we carry only because we do not know it is possible to put it down! When you lay down at night, does your mind race with everything you did that day and everything you need to do tomorrow? That is stress talking. Do you feel as though every day is the same routine of wake up, go to work, go home, go to bed? Lather, rinse, repeat. That is stress talking. Do you feel like there is just no way out of the pit you have dug for yourself? That is stress talking. Do you feel that tightness in your chest when you picture tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day? That is stress talking.
I am here to tell you, life doesn’t need to be like that. There is such joy and peace to be found inside of you and in the world around you. And it is there FOR YOU! There is more to this life than suppressing yourself and focusing on your responsibilities. There is joy. There is happiness. There is beauty. There is hope.
Peace and joy does not mean perfection. The drive for perfection is actually just another cause of stress. Peace begins when you accept your strengths and your weaknesses. Peace is harmony. Peace is calm. Peace is the ability to control your fear and not let the small speed bumps of life become mountains. Peace is all about priorities. Once you begin your journey toward personal joy and happiness, peace is a natural side effect.
5 Steps Toward Reducing Stress
1. Let Go: We cannot expect to be at peace with ourselves or the world around us while we try to control everything. We must come to terms with the fact that there are things that we can control in our world, and there are things that we cannot! Do you try to think through every possible permutation of a problem so that you can have a solution ready? How much energy and time do you devote to worrying about that upcoming business deal? It can be a difficult task, especially for Type A personalities, but we must teach ourselves to calm down and focus on the moment we are in. The future will happen regardless of how much worry and mental energy we pour into it. So, prepare and move on.
My personal stress in this category has always been the weather. I was born and lived in a home only 8 feet from a large creek until I was 38 years old. The creek would flood at least twice per year for that entire time. The floods led to many terrifying memories throughout the years and did claim lives. When I became a husband and father, it became my responsibility to keep me and my family safe. I was constantly stressing about weather conditions. Heavy rains or a deep snow pack and warm temperatures would send my mind into overdrive. I knew that I couldn’t control the weather. Mother Nature was going to do what Mother Nature was going to do whether I stressed about it or not. I needed to learn to cope with the conditions in my world that I could not change. When I made the decision to stop letting my fear control me, my path became clear. I bought a home in the area where me and my family would not be affected by the natural flood patterns. And that was it. Now I can enjoy the sound of rain on the roof without feeling a knot in my stomach. I controlled what I could control and let go of the stress created by something outside of my control.
What is it that is a cause of stress in your life that you actually cannot control? Why carry that stress with you if you have no way of effecting the outcome? Pull an Elsa and just LET IT GO!
2. Be True To You: I once heard that if we all had to be what we wanted to be when we were 6 years old, the world would be full of princesses and firemen. Silly, but at the same time, kind of euphoric. When we were 6 years old and wanted to be those things, we had passion for them. We could actually picture ourselves doing that job. Oh, and by the way, don’t feel bad. I never realized the bmx racing stardom I was sure awaited me either! But let me ask you this, did any of us dream of becoming an insurance salesman? Was it your passion to go into risk analysis? Did you set up a stand in your yard or on your stoop offering paper towel customer service conversations for $0.50? No, of course not. As we grow up and add responsibilities to our load, we adjust our dreams and goals. That is just part of becoming an adult. But some of us surrender our dreams and goals. That is not necessary and will not lead to a life of fulfillment and joy. Do not give up on your hopes and dreams. Do not let the “world” steal your spark. Change the narrative and be truly happy with yourself no matter what stage of adulthood you are in.
Much of our lives is set out before us before we actually realize that it is a cookie cutter plan that may not fit our style. Go to school; get a job; start a family; strive for greatness until your exhausted meat suit finally gives out. If that is the life path that makes you happy, great! But if that is just what you have learned you are “supposed” to do, stop right now! Never let decisions on the ideal made by past generations affect how you live and how you find your happiness. Only you can create your best life, but there is no shortage of situations that can steal it.
So perhaps look into taking up painting like you always dreamed of; or enroll in college and get the degree you always wanted; dance on the hood of Whitesnake’s car with “Here I Go Again” blasting in the background! Well…maybe not that last one. But still, if you are on a path laid out by someone else, take the next exit. Begin to love your life on your terms. In my religious world view, you only get one ride on this giant, spinning rock hurdling through space and time. Make the most of it.
3. No More Grudges: If we are going to live in joy and peace, we need to learn to forgive. Period. There is just no way around it. Sure, sometimes people suck. Us humans do terrible, awful things to each other physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. And that includes the things we do to ourselves! But we will never truly be at peace if we are hiding from or suppressing feelings of anger or guilt. We need to address the past, forgive the situation, see that it is part of what makes you who you are today, and then be done with it. We cannot move on to a position of mindfulness and focusing on today, this moment, while there is still lingering rage toward other individuals in our past or guilt for decisions we made. It may be very difficult, but forgiveness will lead you to peace.
4. Organize and Prioritize: This is a big key to lowering your stress and finding peace that is often overlooked. Have you ever been so busy that small tasks just sort of pile up around you until eventually they fall in on you? It happens to us all at one time or another. I picture it like a snow plow. A snow plow goes down the road and the driver is focused on removing the snow from the roadway. The plow pushes the snow over to the berm of the road. Over the course of a winter, that snow plow may need to do the same thing to that stretch of road 30 or 40 times. The snow begins to build up on the berm of the road and actually creates a hazard as it slides back down onto the highway. That is what we can do sometimes with our lives. We focus so hard on our goal that we do not account for the hazards we are building up beside us. Until, eventually, they bury us.
There is an old saying in the business world: “Cluttered desk, cluttered mind”. Organized surroundings can be surprisingly soothing to the walking, talking balls of stress which many of us are. That is why organization can help lead to peace. Take the time to organize, clean and de-clutter your environment. If you need to spend 50 hours per week at work, keep your desk immaculate. If you are able to be home more than away, clean house. Get rid of things you do not use, find a space for the things you do, and keep everything neat and tidy. Oftentimes the environment we create around us is a reflection of the environment we have created within us. And vice versa. So to help your mind not hold onto stress and find peace, create relaxation and peace around you. Give yourself every chance to find and achieve your best life.
If we are focused on our career and that is the most important thing in our lives, we may not notice the emotional effect our choices and behaviors are having on our spouse and/or children. They want your time and attention. And that is why we need to prioritize. We have only a set number of hours in which to live our life. Here is a morbid little tidbit: The moment we are born, our death countdown starts running. Perhaps if we could see that clock counting down, we would be more apt to live every moment to its fullest, but I digress.
How do you want to have spent your time on this plane? Would you rather be wrapped up in your work and have no time for, or interest in, personal growth OR would you rather search for balance between making the living you require for your responsibilities and experiencing life in all its wonderful quirkiness? Do you want to spend more time giving PowerPoint presentations or playing catch with your children? Setting priorities in your life and sticking with them will help to give your life clarity. Decisions will be easier because you already know what you want to do. And easy decisions do not incur stress. It doesn’t even need to be a question of work versus family. Hell, I have seen individuals volunteer themselves into unhappiness! I have seen hobbies overtake lives! It is all a matter of finding the proper balance for YOUR life. Each answer may be different, but the question remains the same. If you are unhappy and stressed out, what have you been making your priority?
5. It Is Called Inner Peace For a Reason: What if I told you that you could read every word from every religious text and sit and speak with the Dalai Lama and the Pope for as long as your heart desired, and spend your time building schools for one-legged blind children in the Congo, and still not achieve inner peace? Do you know why? It is because inner peace cannot be achieved by doing any act or deed in the world. It can only be achieved by doing what must be done inside of you; inside your mental and emotional self; in your soul.
It is very similar to one of the core differences between Judaism and Christianity. Within the Jewish faith, it is believed that people must perform certain acts or deeds in order to gain entry into heaven after their death. Christianity is based on the belief that no act or deed is necessary, only the belief that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the acceptance of Him as your Lord and Savior. And remember, they share half of the Bible in common!
Our inner peace on this plane is not something that can be taught, or purchased, or bestowed upon us, or even earned. It is a result of our inner work. It is a result of our willingness to be introspective and honest with ourselves; to feel emotions; to root out negativity; to forgive and to live our lives immersed in each moment. Like everything that is worth a damn, it takes work to achieve being stress-free. But unlike most things the outside world has to offer, it is worth the struggle. Connecting with yourself; accepting yourself for who you are; and learning to love yourself will deliver a lifetime full of joy and happiness. Your inner peace is yours for the taking. It is up to you whether or not you will allow the fear of your inner monsters rob you of the opportunity to achieve it.
So That Is It?: Are you thinking to yourself, “So if I do these 5 things, I will have no more stress and I will live a life of pure Nirvana with no stress or fears?” Well, no. This isn’t a cure for stress. It is more of a treatment. It will give you the most opportunity live a life of reduced stress and peace. Do people still cut me off in traffic? Yes. Am I still prone to throwing up my “driving finger” to relay my displeasure at their decision making skills? Yep. Sorry. But I am also quick to forgive them and my over-reaction and move on. Life will deliver stress. It is a guarantee. Jobs get unexpectedly lost; unplanned pregnancies happen; cars break down; flights get missed; Legos get stepped on. It happens. But through introspection and a focused, concerted effort to put these steps into practice, we can all move closer toward the inner peace we desire. It is our reaction to stress, not the lack of stress, that defines our inner peace.