I remember, some time ago, visiting the doctor for a laundry list of ailments that had finally begun to get the best of me. All I really wanted was to grab my fist full of prescriptions, you can almost always count on, and go about my day with the renewed hope that relief was just a small pill away.
Imagine my disgust when the doctor chalked it all up to stress! “That’s impossible! I’m not that stressed!” “Okay, maybe stress can account for my increased blood pressure but c’mon…” I left with a prescription to handle my stress before it handles me. If I’m being honest, that really stressed me out. It also made me mad and I’m sure I rambled on in my defense, even to strangers, about what a cop out that was because clearly, something was very wrong with me and I had been so quickly dismissed.
The truth is, that doctor was right. It’s only been some years later that the evidence of a stressful life is littered across my medical chart.
Today, you would be hard pressed to find a soul who isn’t stressed with the current trends of angst around us. The world is groaing under the loads and demands of politics, pandemics, prejudice, pride and privilege. We are connected and disconnected in ways we have never been before. Friends and family share opinions we never knew existed in their now passionate hearts, for whatever cause they deem useful. We feel the collective stress, whether beyond the edges of the tumult or, in the heart of the matter, or heading back under the rock we wish to inhabit. There is no escaping, even a sliver of the upheaval, and that is stressful.
So, how do we handle this real stress before it handles us? There are the obvious, pat answers…improve your diet, get some exercise, breathe deeply, get more sleep. Those are valid and helpful, but perhaps there is more to it.
Just like my response to the doctor when things didn’t go my way, our first instinct when trouble arises and the stress load builds, is to defend. We defend our truth. We defend our views. We claw our way out of misunderstanding. That’s just it…as humans we want to be seen. We want to be heard. We want to be understood. Looking back at the interaction with my doctor, he listened closely to my concerns, he evaluated each problem, he made a full assessment of my health. He didn’t just dismiss my concerns as I had perceived at the time… He listened, he didn’t just rewrite my story of pain for a more elusive one called stress.
Perhaps being defensive only contributes and adds to the stress of any situation.
What if, instead, we became more accessible to the people around us? What if we stopped for a moment to hear our children or our spouse, roommate, friend; witness their perspective, their reality. What if we just started there, in our own circles of influence?
What if we stopped to listen and understand before rewriting the story of someone else.
What if our behavior was more intentional than reflexive?
What if we gave more people the benefit of the doubt?
What if we spent more time in service to our family, our neighborhoods, our community to create good things instead of idly complaining about the bad?
As humans, we are oriented to recognize threat. From the beginning of time, we were programmed to fight or flee. Stress is a teacher of nature and it takes effort to respond to it in a way that preserves our good health but it is possible and benefits are life saving.
What if we were the safe place to harbor the stories of those around us?
What if we could focus more on the good things we have?
What if we could use our words to let those around us know that we need more love, attention; more witnessing that what we are dealing with is hard. We don’t always need someone to fix the things that are wrong but we always need to be heard.
What if we could see more clearly, that anger comes from hurt? What if we could see more clearly that we all just want to feel safer in this little, big world that has felt like it is closing in on us all year?
What if this is how we managed our stress and took care of ourselves and others? What if it really was this simple…?
We all have within us the capacity to be kind and compassionate. Finding the good around us has a calming effect. Stress is a familiar problem but we can see it in a new way if we are open to a changed perspective.
We aren’t just at the mercy of this angry world, though that is often how we feel. Most days, it feels bigger than any small thing we can do, but don’t give in to that notion. There is much we can do to ease the discomfort for ourselves and those around us and save us from the stress we have been enduring thus far this year.
At Madison Women’s Clinic, we are here to help you through these very difficult times. We too feel the demands of the culture in which we live. No one should suffer alone.