On a recent afternoon my middle schooler reported a less than stellar grade on his French test and followed that news with several other potentially nerve-racking comments about his school day. I stood at the kitchen island sorting mail and nodding to his news while he ate his afternoon snack.
“Mom, did you hear me??”
There was a time when I might have reacted, but not this day.
Sometimes there’s so much talk about stress that the word alone can make you feel stressed out! That’s why our family has a virtual ban on the word in our household. It just seems unnatural to hear your teenager talking about “stress levels” and “overload.”
Given that stress is the leading cause for most doctor visits, it’s a hot topic in healthcare discussions. Even a simple visit to a health clinic can cause stress, especially with the growing trend of over-testing and false diagnoses. A recent article in Healthcare Finance News asks, “Ever been sick with worry waiting for results of a test you shouldn’t have had in the first place? Think about it next time.”
So how can you approach stress so it doesn’t become something more threatening to one’s health, or at the very least threaten to sabotage an otherwise good day?
I agree with a few points made in the online resource Medical News Today, which emphasizes that “What really matters are our thoughts about the situations in which we find ourselves.”
One good place to start is in taking an inventory of your “triggers”: perhaps the driver who cuts you off in traffic, the salesperson who takes forever to help you, the unfinished work on your desk, etc.
I’ll admit my list seemed extensive at one point. But being a wife and mom of three has trained me in the direction of reducing my list to a much shorter one. To do that, I’ve leaned heavily on my spiritual practice to inform my thoughts and actions. This simple biblical wisdom from the prophet Jeremiah has been a solid guide: “I know the thoughts I think towards you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”
Life gives us all plenty of scenarios in which to practice these skills. Just last week my husband called to say he’d missed his night flight home after a business trip. Oh I wanted to react, but I mightily resisted the impulse to enter the stress of the moment. Instead, I chose to be on the side of peace to gain that “expected end.” He’d faced unexpected traffic in an unfamiliar city and when he finally made it to the airport, he watched the gate agent shut the door to the breezeway just as he was approaching the gate.
It was late and I didn’t think there would be more flights. That would mean another hotel stay, an additional night away from home, lots of waiting, more cost to his company.
My prayers for responding with a solution-oriented state of mind came to my rescue in that moment. I chose not to worry and instead focused on the conviction that there would be a good solution. An hour later my husband called to say he’d gotten on a flight with another airline, and he’d even be arriving home two hours earlier than the first flight he’d missed! Sure, I was relieved, but I was especially happy that I hadn’t given in to the stress of the moment–with all the accompanying negative emotions.
There may indeed be times when situations arise that are much more intense than the ones I’ve described, but as Medical News Today reported, “How you see that stressful event will be the largest single factor that impacts on your physical and mental health. Your interpretation of events and challenges in life may decide whether they are invigorating or harmful for you.”
We are all capable of making health-affirming choices. As we handle the more minor situations with grace, perhaps bigger ones won’t loom so large. We’ll instead be able to build on the prayers and the peace we proved in the past.
Ingrid lives in Framingham, where she and her husband manage three busy kids, a Lab who's sniffed every trail at Callahan and a ragdoll cat. She blogs on spirituality and health and is also a Christian Science practitioner. You can see more on her website "Breaking Bread" at masshealthblog.com.