There’s a goofy old joke that, beyond its silliness, may store a nugget of thought that just might make you healthier emotionally, and even physically.
It goes like this:
Patient: “Doctor! Doctor! I broke my arm in three places!”
Doctor: “Well, don’t go to those places!”
Again, behind the gag there is a serious message: Don’t knowingly cause yourself unnecessary pain.
Such may be the case with stress – which, as is legendary, can be greatest around the holidays.
A new Gallup poll says nearly 80 percent of Americans feel stress at some point in their day – 44 percent frequently, 35 percent occasionally.
Only 17 percent say they rarely feel stressed. A happy 4 percent say they’re never stressed.
Now, if 80 percent had said they felt “sick” during the day, wouldn’t that be considered a pandemic? Yet we think nothing of shrugging off 80 percent of the population encountering stress every day, 44 percent frequently.
But what if there were an easy cure for that pandemic?
In this case, there may be.
The late inspirational speaker and writer Dr. Wayne Dyer used to whimsically recall asking patients to go out and come back with a bucket of stress.
His point, as laid down in a blog:
“The truth is that there is no actual stress or anxiety in the world; it’s your thoughts that create these false beliefs. You can’t package stress, touch it, or see it. There are only people engaged in stressful thinking. …
“Stress and anxiety are choices that we make, ways that we choose to process events.”
That said, not all stress is bad.
When something is happening around us that could cause us danger or death, it’s not only natural for stress to kick in, it could save your life by heightening your senses and quickening your responses.
And it’s not just danger that brings out the best in stress.
Dr. Alice Boyes, author and blogger at the website PsychologyToday.com, writes that there are easily “Five Types of Good Stress”: travel; falling in love; gradual exposure to things you want to overcome a fear of; necessary and even beneficial change; and being new at something.
Still, why lean into bad, unhealthy stress – particularly when it may not be necessary? As the doctor in the joke advises, “don’t go to those places!”
Giving in to needless feelings of stress, and therefore avoidable suffering, becomes a bad habit – one that, if you believe the Gallup poll, 96 percent of us suffer from in varying amounts. Like any habit, it can be broken. But it takes conscious thought and effort.
The good news is, there’s a smorgasbord of great advice out there, in books and on the Internet, on how to reduce stress in your life. The website WebMd.com lists “10 Relaxation Techniques That Zap Stress Fast,” including meditation or mere deep breathing; taking moments to sip from your senses (“Notice how the air feels on your face when you’re walking and how your feet feel hitting the ground. Enjoy the texture and taste of each bite of food.”); reaching out to trusted friends; laughing; listening to soothing music; exercising; and counting your blessings.
Figure out where the bad stress is coming from. And don’t go to those places.