By Mike Mahler
"I am an old man and have a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened." - Mark Twain
Stress is by far one of the greatest destroyers of health. Both mental health and physical health. Stress increases cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is necessary for life. Without enough cortisol you will have no motivation and no energy. However, excessive cortisol levels literally eat away at brain tissue and muscle. More and more studies are coming out linking high cortisol levels to alzheimer's disease and dementia. Stress is pretty scary stuff and many people are way too casual about having high stress levels.
The interesting thing about stress is how it manifests and how often it is self induced. Oddly enough the people that you would assume have the least amount of stress often have the highest levels of stress. Through my world travels I have often observed that the less problems someone has the more stress he or she has. As crazy as it may sound, not having any real problems can be stressful! Most people would not admit it, but many people thrive on conflict and problems. Solving problems and resolving conflicts induces growth. No real stress means no growth and that in itself is stressful! In the movie "The Matrix" a computer program talks about how the initial computer generated program for humans was a utopia in which there were no problems. The program was a disaster and humans died left and right. The second program was more like our world wrought with violence and suffering. The program was a success. Thus, the conclusion in the movie is that humans thrive on misery and suffering. Not too far from the truth. Without problems we do not develop fully and waste away. Thus, perhaps the creation of problems is a self preservation mechanism. We need problems to live fully and if we do not have any real problems, we create them.
Much of stress has to do with how one interprets any given situation. A millionaire has problems that non millionaires do not have such as how to hang on to the money, avoid paying excessive taxes, and evade gold diggers and other manipulators. These may seem trivial in comparison to other forms of stress. However, stress is based on how the individual handles it. An impoverished individual living in a hut in Kenya with a big smile on his face everyday may very well have less stress than a workaholic millionaire. To illustrate with another example, a soldier in war may be less stressed out than an impatient lady in a restaurant that is throwing a fit due to her meal being five minutes late. Sounds impossible to believe. Nevertheless, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the interpretation of stress is in the mind of the individual.
One facet of stress that is fascinating is many people create incredible levels of stress over problems that are probably never going to happen. Worrying about what may or may not happen is natural to a degree as the unknowns in life can be stressful. Regardless, obsessing about what could go wrong is a sure-fire way to drive yourself crazy. Accepting the reality that there are things that are out of your control requires a level of faith. In return you get a level of peace of mind that all you can do is place your best effort and let the chips fall where they may. Realizing that life is "controlled chaos" is not easy as taking a truth pill is often not easy to digest.
Next, some people believe that the more problems they have, the more important they are. I have even seen people compete with friends regarding who has more problems. No matter what one person says, someone else will try to top that person. Many people like to wear their problems like a badge of honor. "Look how great I am with all of these problems." On the other hand, people with real problems are often too busy dealing with them or living with them to gloat. The last thing they want to do is show off about their problems. They consider such actions embarrassing.
This does not mean that venting is out of the question or that bitching about problems is unacceptable. No doubt, letting it all out from time to time has a beneficial cleansing effect. However, harboring on the same problem over and over again and not doing anything productive to solve the problems is a waste of time. At some point some meaningful action steps have to occur. Instead of complaining endlessly regarding your problems, take a page from Viktor Frankl and ask yourself if you are worthy of your sufferings. This mental paradigm shift can provide an entirely new perspective that results in a greater mastery of stress.
Finally, perhaps the greatest self induced stress creator is the obsession with the opinions of others. I am always amazed by people that worry about what strangers think of them. They literally live their lives for the approval of others which is no way to live. Sure getting praise from others is nice. However, living an artificial life for the sake of pleasing others is very stressful. Usually the stress does not show as these people are putting on an act in public. However, internally incredible levels of cortisol are being produced. Not living an authentic life creates a great deal of internal stress. You can only hold it back for so long. Eventually the stress reaches a critical mass with disastrous consequences.
Make no mistake about it stress is a killer and learning how to handle stress is one of the most important things you can do. Stop worrying about everything and live more in the moment. If you are full invested in the moment then the future has a way of working out. Next, stop obsessing with the opinions of others. Who cares what other people think of you. Life is stressful enough. Live an authentic life not one in which you constantly seek the approval of others. Next, take some time to breathe. Whenever you get stressed, you naturally hold your breathe. Breathe in deeply and breathe out and take a moment for yourself whenever you need it. Finally, have your Doctor do some Saliva tests to measure your DHEA and Cortisol levels.
My new book Live Life Aggressively! What Self-help Gurus Should Be Telling You is finally out. It is available here on my website in ebook format and available in print format from amazon.com. I will be using the 260 page book as a fundraiser for two fantastic organizations.