Some months ago, following a keynote address I had given, a middle-aged lady approached me and asked if she could talk to me for a few minutes. I told her I’d be more than happy to speak with her, whereupon she began to share with me the difficulty she was experiencing trying to cope with stress.
Her demeanor was hyper – talking very fast, highly animated, and tending to offer answers to her own questions. We spoke for about 10 minutes, and during that short period her cellphone not only rang three times, but each time it rang she interrupted our discussion to answer it.
While I was taken aback by her cellphone compulsion, I didn’t take it personally. She undoubtedly interrupted many activities and conversations every day of her life to answer her cellphone.
The woman explained that she was a single mother with two boys, ages 11 and 13. Her husband had left her several years ago for another woman, and, though she had a full-time job, she was having a very difficult time making financial ends meet.
In a frustrated tone of voice, she told me that her apartment was always “a mess,” because between her job obligations, commuting back and forth to work, grocery shopping, cooking, endlessly chauffeuring her boys, and more, she didn’t have time to straighten it let alone clean it. She was talking at such a rapid pace that it appeared she was afraid she would not get in everything that she wanted to say.
Obviously, I wasn’t able to give this woman much concrete advice in 10 minutes, but I did emphasize one important point to her. I told her that in relating her situation to me, she could have been describing any one of millions of women who find themselves in pretty much the same circumstances day in and day out.
Or, for that matter, men. Most men are overloaded with work and obligations that often push them to the brink. The majority of men I talk to are stressed and frustrated by a lack of that elusive, irreplaceable commodity – time.
Since my brief chat with that frazzled woman, I’ve given a lot of thought to the widespread problem of stress. It’s a problem that knows no racial, ethnic, religious, or gender boundaries. Clearly, it is endemic (see Word to the Wise, below) in modern Western culture.
is a broad subject that has many facets to it. One is time management,
which is the subject of my upcoming presentation at ETR’s
Wealth-Building Conference. However, as I’ve
given more thought to the issue of stress, I’ve come to the
conclusion that the first step toward getting it under control
is to approach it from a more broad-based viewpoint.
By this I mean that I don’t believe children, job, lack of time, and other specific issues that most of us have to deal with are at the real heart of the stress problem. Rather, I am convinced that stress is a self-imposed mental state.
Stress is the antithesis of serenity, peace of mind, and tranquility. Clearly, then, the best way to reduce stress is to strive for peace of mind. You cannot simultaneously be stressed and also experience tranquility.
So, how do you capture that elusive mental state known as peace of mind?First, you must recognize that true peace of mind does not shift with changing circumstances. If you have peace of mind, you can handle both adversity and good fortune with a calm confidence.
In other words, true peace of mind gives you the strength to stay on course in the face of adversity. What I’m saying here is that you live within your mind. It is not events that shape your world. It is your thought processes.
To paraphrase something Dale Carnegie said more than 50 years ago, as you and I pass through the decades of life, sadness and misfortune will cross our paths. This is a truism that would be difficult to argue against.
Fear, loneliness, rejection, illness, death, financial failure, and loss of love are just a few examples of the kinds of sadness and misfortune we all have to deal with from time to time. Where we differ is how each of us handles the negatives that come into our lives. This, in turn, goes a long way toward determining whether our lives will be stressful or tranquil.
I believe that the foundation for handling sadness and misfortune, and thus for leading a low-stress life, is what I like to refer to as “living right.” What I mean by this is consistently being conscious of, and vigilant about, trying to make the right choices.
Please, no relativism copout here when it comes to deciding what “living right” and “right choices” mean. I’d be willing to bet that you’ve had more experiences than you can count where you did something that, in your gut, didn’t feel right. And just as many experiences where you did not do something that you knew, deep down inside, you should have done.
In fact, you can apply the “feels right/feels wrong” barometer to virtually any aspect of life. Whenever a person who’s a hundred pounds overweight walks by me at a ballpark – with a beer in one hand and a container of gooey, cheese-covered nachos in the other – I think to myself, “Surely this guy knows that what he’s doing is not in his best interest.”
Specifically, he knows that it’s wrong for his health and longevity, not to mention his energy level and capacity for enjoying life. In reality, of course, he doesn’t think about it in such specific terms. His stress level simply rises and brings with it a higher level of unhappiness.
Another example is when you allow a sales clerk, customer rep, or maintenance person to intimidate you into accepting a less than satisfactory solution to your problem. How many times have you felt stressed and inwardly angry for allowing yourself to be intimidated?
How about when you do something that, at the deepest level of your moral foundation, doesn’t feel honest? In such an instance, if you’re basically an honorable person, your conscience won’t let you get away with it. This often brings the Guilty Fairy into your life, and along with her enough stress to take your mind off other important matters.
Perhaps worst of all is being late for appointments, particularly if this becomes a way of life. Being late is not just a blatant display of rudeness. It also makes you look weak in the eyes of others and, even worse, feel weak in your own mind.
I could go on endlessly with examples, but I think you get the idea.
We all desire love, understanding, and recognition, but none of these is foundational to serenity. Nor is alcohol, pills, sexual pleasure, fame, or wealth the antidote to stress. Millions have tried this route without conquering their stress, and all too many have lived unnecessarily short lives as a result.
The real key to conquering stress is self-examination – continual, honest self-examination regarding the harmony and disharmony in your life. Inner conflict causes stress. By contrast, leading a concentric life (i.e. one in which what you do matches up closely with what you believe in and what you say) brings harmony into your world.
Harmony is directly related to how often you follow through and do what you know is right. Likewise, harmony is related to how often you demonstrate the self-discipline to refrain from doing that which you know is wrong.
One last point. If you’re a religionist, stress is a signal that you are disconnected from God. How can you be stressed if you are connected to an infinite source of power that is presumed to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent?
Similarly, if you’re an atheist, stress is a signal that you are disconnected from the infinite power of the universe, whatever the ultimate scientific explanation of that power may be. In this respect, I agree with Viktor Frankl’s view that there is much less difference between a religionist and an atheist than most people might suspect. The more I examine this issue, the more convinced I am that it is more a matter of semantics than anything else.
In Part II of this article, I’m going to suggest some specific actions you can take to lower your stress level and bring more serenity, peace of mind, and tranquility into your life.