Ah, stress. It’s become almost a badge of honor these days. If you don’t talk about how stressed you are, then are you really working hard enough? Are you giving enough of yourself to your family, your job, your community?
If you happen to meet a rare, stress-free person, you might suspect her or him of being a little simple, or maybe on some type of drug — legal or less than legal.
Or maybe they’re some hippy-dippy yoga type, am I right?
It’s funny (not really the ha-ha kind of funny) that even as we heap more and more stress onto ourselves and even carry it as a badge of honor, we are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of stress.
Stress is at least partly to blame for physical ailments including headaches, stomach issues, heart problems, high blood pressure, asthma, skin conditions, and even arthritis. Depression, anxiety and insomnia are also much more likely in individuals who experience large amounts of stress. OSHA has even declared stress as a workplace hazard!
Stress contributes to the use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs as a means to attempt to manage its effects.
So what’s the solution? As an avid Facebooker, I often see people sharing picturesque photos of lonely cabins in the woods, with captions like, “If only I could live here, all my troubles would be gone.” The idea is that the person sharing the photo would live a life of care-free ease without the noise and trouble of neighbors, a job, and pesky electricity.
Wouldn’t it be great if it were that easy? If that cabin in the woods didn’t come with its own set of stressors, like figuring out how to hunt, forage and store enough food to last the winter? Not to mention firewood, shoes, and protection from predators?
Unfortunately, most Americans wouldn’t know how to actually survive that isolated cabin in the woods. And I’m willing to bet a great many of us (myself enthusiastically included) would be even more stressed without the modern conveniences of electricity, grocery stores, and Amazon.com.
The truth is, even though we all, for the most part, find our lives totally stressful, we aren’t going to magically change that stress by getting a different job, moving to a new location, or deleting our Facebook account.
What we really need is to take better care of the lives we have right now. To stop struggling. No, I don’t mean, “Stop struggling financially!” like some modern-day Marie Antoinette (yes, I know she didn’t really say that). What I mean is, we should learn to soften into the stress.
If you’ve been in one of my yoga classes, you’ve heard me talk about this softening. Just like your muscles, your mind is constantly in this mode where it’s trying to protect you. It’s on guard 24/7. It’s ready and waiting, just daring something to happen to give it a reason to go all, “Red Alert! Danger! Send in the adrenaline!”
We live our lives, it seems, as sentries for stress, stressing about stress, which just makes us stress harder.
But what if you just lie there, and breathe, and let the stress happen? Let your mind go where it wants, and learn a new way of noticing the worries as they flit about, but not following them down rabbit holes to new worries?
This is possible. This is meditation, and it’s achieved through a lot of means. My favorite, of course, is yoga. Sometimes I have to wear my body out and keep my mind focused hard, using sweaty Vinyasa class to do so. Sometimes, all it takes is a nice, quiet, dark space and a little guidance in a Restorative class.
All yoga roads lead to one place, which is meditation. And when you meditate, you melt your stress. This isn’t just a silly yoga lady raving. This is science. Ask your doctor! In the mean time, sign up for a yoga class or join my New YOU REVolution workshop on New Year’s Day!
Written by Jena Barber, who decided to live a magical, stress-free life by relocating and opening her own business. Turns out, owning a yoga studio is no more or less stressful than marketing an environmental education nonprofit. It’s literally how you react to it. Who knew?