I'm not an expert, but I read a lot, observe a lot, study a lot, and practice certain things a lot! These seven steps seem to work for me, and as I observe the struggles of others, these areas seem to cause a great deal of stress in people's lives. So, here are some insights to possibly reducing stress in your life.
1. Reduce the noise
We live in a very very very noisy society. Having lived in Africa for more than twenty years, one of the most difficult readjustments coming back to the United States is the continuing, never relenting, loud, and ever present high levels of noise. Just about anywhere and any place one goes to, that place is a place filled with noise!
In his article Decimal Hell: The Effects of Living in a Noisy World Ron Chepesuik writes: "It’s not difficult for a person to encounter sound at levels that can cause adverse health effects. During a single day, people living in a typical urban environment can experience a wide range of sounds in many locations, including shopping malls, schools, the workplace, recreational centers, and the home. Even once-quiet locales have become polluted with noise." With iPods, earphones, music, cars, trucks, motorcycles, work noise, and a host of other sources of loud obtrusive sounds, millions of Americans suffer the effects of too loud and too much noise. High noise levels are proven to cause a host of ill effects on the human body and psyche. Many Americans living in noisy environments suffer from depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies.
The need to pull the earphones from our ears, shut off the music, turn off the TV, and just learn silence is needful for our mental and emotional health. Learning to schedule some quite time may be an answer and prove extremely beneficial!
2. Reduce Social Media Exposure
Mental Health experts are sounding the alarm of the ill effects of too much social media exposure. While social media provides a host of benefits, too much appears not good for our emotional and physical health; just ask your thumbs about that last one. Media Addiction is an increasing problem causing depression, hopelessness, neediness, detachment, and for some suicidal thoughts. There is a host of evidence developing on this subject.
Recently, during a visit, an individual we desired to spend time with rarely took her eyes off the smart phone during a marathon Candy Crush session. Observation speaks to this individual's addiction to the smart phone. With small children, family, and friends nearby not more than two sentences of communication between my smartphone-friend and any human being took place. It was an incredible occurrence to watch as Candy Crush took up more than ten hours of that person's day! We as humans need verbal, optical, and physical stimulus with each other almost every day. Going to our iPhones, Facebooks, and other media sources on average 100 times per day does not provide the human exchanges with need with each other. This point is shared by a person who is heavily invested into Social Media; me!
3. Reduce Information Loads
I can always tell which of my parishioners view a constant diet of the News. Whether it is Fox, CNN, Internet, or any other news media, one constant thing is ever present; a negative worrisome attitude of just about everything. Today in the course of just one hour of news viewing, a person can know more about what's going on around the world than our counterparts knew in an entire lifetime just one hundred years ago. Here's the thing - much of what we see and hear on the News is dark, traumatic, and tragic. This type of constant stream of information affects our psyches. It molds our thinking and outlooks. Yes, I am concerned about world problems, but I can only deal with that which is immediately around me; my kids, my grandchildren, my congregation, those hurting in my community - and maybe one more cause beyond my borders. Our need for mental down time is an emotional healthy necessity to get away from all the stuff that is going on in this world. Our minds need the break!
4. Reduce Over-Activity
Having lived in Africa and visited much of the world, I notice that no people are busier in so many different activities than Americans. Perhaps ask yourself, "Is what I want really worth all the time I am spending to get it?" Or, "Do I actually need to be on the go all the time?" Too much busyness produces a lot of stress in the long run. Personally, I rank the stuff "I need to do" and start at the top of my list. Marriage, family, grand children, job, and you get the idea, come first. If time becomes an issue, than things at the middle to the bottom of the list go undone or people are given a "no I can't do that." While being on the go all the time is praised in our culture, no person can go go go all the time without eventual ill effects. I've asked people to count the number of different activities they involve themselves in during the course of one month. Their results were unbelievably astounding!
Our children are perfect examples of the busy-phenomenon. I've often thought and asked, "Yes, your 10 year old child needs to be involved in social activity, but does she need to be in ballet, dance, soccer, basketball, drama, and gymnastics all at the same time?" Add, to that school, home work, and just plain growing up kid-stuff, and well, where is the time to think, imagine, ponder, dream, and just be?
5. Get More Sleep
The Sleep Foundation notes that sleep deprivation is a huge factor in depression, obesity, illness, and stress. While there is not a magical number of hours applicable to all people, it does appear more sleep is needed by the majority of Americans. Sleep deprivation elevates stress levels, and in many suicides is a leading factor. Many teens and young adults preferring the internet, Face Book, text messaging, and other medias rarely see sleep before midnight. Is this perhaps a main consideration for the alarming rise of mental illness among our young adults? Many prefer the TV to a regular routine of sleep. And, of course, the party scene for many reduces one's functionality, health, and emotional well-being over time. Simply partying all the time in itself can cause great deals of stress as it often results in significant sleep deprivation. However, for many it just boils down to insomnia; the inability to simply fall asleep or stay asleep. This is one I've fought for years! Simply learning to turn the brain off and go to sleep is very challenging for many of us.
6. Move Your Body - Do Something
OK, now I am not a fitness guru. I am overweight a bit, lack enough exercise, and need to move more. I can't jog, too many injuries, it hurts to lift weights, two torn rotator cuffs, and . . . and . . . well, you know how it goes. But, I can move my body, take walks, work in the yard, and just do something for Pete's sake! For me, I have little tricks. I almost always park in the back of the parking lot forcing myself to walk farther to the store than anyone else. I almost always take the stairs rather than an elevator. Fitness and stress are directly related. On this point, losing weight is important too. There is too much evidence out there showing that our sedentary lifestyles are killing us. So, whatever you need to do to get moving, get moving!
6. Develop a Hobby
For me it's photography. Getting out into Northern Minnesota just to take pictures eases my mind of a lot of stuff that causes me stress. Often, I will ask Kathy to accompany me as my spotter as we drive a couple hundred miles through the wilderness looking for wildlife. In the fall, hiking produces the best opportunities for great pictures. Anytime I take the boat to fish I bring my Cannon EOS camera. It's an old cheapish camera, but it works for me! Here are just a few examples of my pics.
Blogging is a recently new development in my life, and the many readers of my blogs provide me with a worthwhile people-helping hobby. I love blogging! So, here is my encouragement, find something you like to do and do it! Start today. Start right now. Why are you still sitting there? :-)
7. Build Some Boundaries
Here's what I've noticed. Certain situations and or individuals who routinely cause high levels of stress must be contained. In our ever increasing verbally caustic culture, there comes a point and time where one's sphere of existence must contain some extent of boundaries. For some of us, it might be limiting the amount of work emails we answer after work at home. For me, my 600 parishioners have to realize that I simply can't be on call 24 hours a day. There are times I don't answer my phone immediately.
Once, a couple struggling in their marriage phoned my cell phone, my wife's cell phone, and our home phone no less than forty times in a one hour period. That one hour period was between 11:00-12:00 pm! When the man chided me the next day for not driving more than thirty minutes in the middle of the night to help in their domestic dispute, I answered, "I don't enter into domestic disputes, that's the number one situation cops get shot, and your problems took ten years to develop, I will not be able to help you sort this out in one hour."
For some of us, quite frankly it's that needy person who is a family member, coworker, friend or whoever! You know, that person who has to be reassured twenty times a day that they are loved, valued, and affirmed. If that person is not Facebooked, text messaged, called, or messaged they ask, "Am I still your friend, are you angry with me, or what have I done wrong to offend you?" The answer is, "We all need space." There is a time to set appropriate boundaries as long as it does not alienate or encourage you to withdraw or isolate yourself at unhealthy levels.
Well, these are just my thoughts. Hope it helps!
Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of overcoming traumatic events in one's life is the whole concept of renewal. Renewal simply put means, "To make new again." Many people with harsh stories of trauma in their lives travel over and over again down the dark damp cold wet alleys of woundedness. Over and over again the trauma, hurt, injustice, and pain is relived. Life seems to always revert to the old wounded paths of fear and pain regardless of any newness of event or relationship.
In our woundedness, we struggle to find meaning in well, just about anything. One area that can really help is in this thing I like to call "renewal." Renewal is nothing more than just finding something you really enjoy doing which uplifts your spirit giving you zest for life, people, and health.
For me, one is photography. Driving all over the countryside for just one good clear shot of nature, for example the owl in this blog, gives me great pleasure. My camera gear is not that great, but focusing upon this owl for over an hour to gain just the right angle for this picture invigorated me let alone the three hour journey to find it!
My grandchildren are another source of renewal as their zest for life and innocence tickles my soul every time I see them. Reading them their favorite story or playing a game with them takes my mind off of me and focuses my "me" upon them. They become the focus of my energy rather than the hurt of my past taking front and center in my mind.
I've nurtured a number of renewal paths over the years which I visit often. What might your path of renewal be? Find it, develop it, and embrace it. It just might be the thing that gives you more meaning and joy in life! And, for some it might just save your life!
Have you suffered injustice or abuse in your past? It's quite natural to become angry, bitter, and vengeful. Over the years, my path has crossed with many suffering from the wounds inflicted by others. One plaguing commonality is the desire to somehow rid one's self of the destructive toxic inner turmoil that comes from conflicted emotional injuries. Many I've known try over and over again to halt their feelings springing up from their troubled pasts. Often the question is posed, "How do I overcome my feelings of animosity, guilt, hate, low self-esteem, self-hatred, depression, shame, and blame?" Here's something I've learned which comes to my aid often.
Put-Off is the desire and attempt to take measures necessary to remove or overcome destructive emotional thought processes. How often many say, "I am not going to hate any longer. I am not going to be vengeful. I am not going to be angry any longer because of that person." Only, many find themselves battling over and over again returning to the source of their pain.
In my own personal life, I've discovered that simply trying not to be angry, for example, is not enough. Simply attempting to remove something out of one's emotional DNA seems to create a vacuum of conflict. Another step is needed:
Put-On attempts to replace destructive feelings with more powerful positive thoughts which fill a vacuum created while trying to remove negative destructive emotions.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1994 in South Africa. After the demise of Apartheid, South Africa was on the verge of a blood bath in retribution for the heinous acts committed by the National government against the black peoples of that beautiful country. I lived in South Africa during this incredible moment of history.
The country was on the precipice ready to slide into an abyss of destruction. However, leaders like Desmond Tutu helped the country Put-Off hatred and vengeance by replacing these emotions with another more powerful expression. Forgiveness was Put-On! When the blood shed of Apartheid ended many stood guilty of crimes against humanity. Yet, as the guilty confessed before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission forgiveness was granted by those injured, surviving family members, and the government.
In his book, The Book of Forgiving, he states, "Ultimately, forgiveness is a choice we make, and the ability to forgive others comes from the recognition that we are all flawed and all human." Never have I witnessed the Put-Off Put-On principle more vividly!
In the eve of the 1994 elections, a white South Africa police officer whom I had befriended told me, "Unless I receive forgiveness I will hang for the things I've done." This officer Put-Off his hatred by confessing to the horrible acts he committed looking into the eyes of the very black people he victimized. In return, his victims who suffered by his hands Put-Off their hatred and Put-On forgiveness! The path to reconciliation began for these two parties. Confession and forgiveness was stronger than revenge.
What about any destructive emotion that troubles you? Try replacing it the an opposite more powerful emotion. Put-Off one and Put-On another. Give it a try! You can do it!
Part One# Find Good Remember Good!
Part Two# Become the Opposite of the Which You Disdain!
I wasn't more than six years old when I began noticing for the first time bruises on my mother. During the next few years there where injuries, sores, and missing teeth mom tried to conceal as best she could. However, we did notice, and as siblings we still talk about it occasionally even today. It was during years six to sixteen that I made up my mind, "I would never ever be that kind of man!"
Dad disappeared and reappeared off and on through the years reinforcing my determination to be different. One particular day, during the summer while walking bare foot in cutoff jeans down West Broadway in North Minneapolis, I peered into a cafe window. And, there he was, my dad with some of his buddies. He had long ago moved out of the house, and as it was a Sunday dad usually golfed with his buddies. Waiting patiently for him, he finally came through the door and noticed me standing there on the sidewalk. He smiled and bragged to his buddies, "Hey, this is my son!" And, with that he put a quarter in my hand scurrying off with his friends to golf. I made up my mind, "I would never ever be that kind of man!"
Fast forward, the year was 1974. We played a football game against Blake High School one particular Saturday. It was on that day playing the fullback position, I scored three touch downs, hum . . . maybe four; my mind doesn't quite remember. Dad, worked just twenty minutes away, but didn't find time to make it to my game. In fact, of every sport I played no one ever sat in the stands to watch me play. I made up my mind, "I would never be that kind of man!"
At a very young age I determined in my heart that this husband and father would not repeat what I witnessed over and over again. To the best of my ability I wanted my children to see a man who desperately loved their mother, and spent plenty of time listening to their needs. As a father of three sons, I taught my sons how to hit a ball, how to hit the target, how to hit the mark, and how to hit a baseball. And, I made sure to teach them how to not to hit a woman. I became the opposite of what I disdained.
In 2005, two of my sons graduated from the same university on the same day; one with his Bachelor's Degree and the other with a Masters. Seats were reserved and promises made. However, not unexpected by this father, the grandfather of my sons never showed up. My sons looked me in the eyes and said, "Thanks for not being that kind of dad."
I understood that day forty-seven years into my life that my pain and disdain became my sons joy. By being present at almost every game my sons participated in I was not that kind of man. By being available when my sons needed to talk, I was not that kind of man. By being faithful to their mother loving her and valuing her above all else, I was not that kind of man. And today, my disdain sees three sons who deeply loved their wives, and are amazing fathers. They too will never be that man!
Part One: Find Good Remember Good
Find Good - Remember Good
It's not uncommon for adults entering into their thirties, forties, and even fifties to struggle with deep emotions & feelings from their childhoods.
For me, there were so many mixed emotions growing up in regards to my parents. My relationship with them was much of the time a contradiction.
I offer the first of several avenues I've discovered during my many years of making sense out of difficult childhood memories.
As the oldest of six, my mother raised us as a single parent during a time in which single parents were a rarity. As a child of a single mom, negative comments towards my mother for just being a single parent reflected deeply creating huge craters of emotion deep within me. Times were, to say the least, tough for a divorced mom in the 60's and 70's. From my perspective, for mom, there were difficult times of just too much stress, too much loneliness, too much struggle, too much anger, too much disgrace, too much brew, too much of too much, and not enough of the essential good stuff that makes life rich and rewarding.
In my early twenties, I tended to dwell mostly on the unfortunate events of childhood rehearsing them within my mind over and over again. All this, just as I started a new life with a wonderful woman, and the birth of our three beautiful baby boys.
I remember thinking, "These thoughts are devouring me. I can't be happy; I can't enjoy my wife and sons. I've got to stop this." It was at that moment, that singular instant, when this struck me. What I needed to do. Instead of remembering bad events of my childhood, I began to asking myself, "What were the good things that occurred? What did my mom do to try and make our lives better? What did mom do that brought smiles? What were the many things she did right?" In my mid-twenties, that marked the beginning of a new way for me, a better way of thinking, and a long journey of looking at life differently.
For example, one great memory was Christmases. Mom always made sure that all six of us experienced a great Christmas! Not having enough money to buy bunches of great toys, I remember how mom scrimped and saved to buy dozens of really cheap toys. Mom wanted each of her children to receive and unwrap mounds of gifts lying under the tree.
Often, hearing her wrapping gifts late at night, I crept to the opening of my bedroom door which I shared with two other brothers, and watched her wrap endless piles of toys. Mesmerized on one particular evening, neither of us realized the night had passed until the light of dawn peered through the frosted wintered windows. With that, I slipped back into bed with mom unawares of a young witness who sat with her through the entire evening into early morning as she wrapped gift after gift after gift. I choose to find that good, and remember that good, because it is that good.
For many of us if not most, good can be found in the midst of most unhappy circumstances. Good is present if one chooses to see it. Find Good & Remember Good continues to serve me well. Give it a try! May it bring joy and peace to you as well!
Part Two: Become the Opposite of What You Disdain
Growing up in a home with two alcoholic parents carries it's challenges. Oh, my mom loved us to be sure, but she suffered the ravages of her hidden alcoholism which often turned our home from a loving nurturing environment into a place of confrontation, dysfunction, fear, and pain. My mom carried her own horrors of rejection, black sheep complex, and the struggles of being a single mother in the sixties and seventies raising six children alone.
Dad after physically ruling his home as an often ancient angry drunken monarch of an much earlier century, left his wife, his children, and more importantly from the view of a ten year old, he left me only to reappear and disappear from time to time the rest of my life. My memories from childhood are still vivid, troubling, and shaping. The words that best sums up early childhood is "fear," "loneliness," and "wanting." Yes, a severe wanting of a father, sometimes any father that might pay the least bit of attention to a young lad needing reassurance and love.
As a missionary for over twenty years in Africa and now a pastor in the United States, my path quite often crosses with other adults who well into their thirties, forties, and fifties struggle with the negative effects and scares left from their earlier years. Their struggles aid them into lives of addictions, repeated abuses perpetrated upon others that they themselves experienced, and stunts just about every relationship they truly value.
Here's the good news! It doesn't have to be like that! I have discovered that my past has indeed been the journey to make me a better person than I might have otherwise have been. And, at this stage of my life I am willing to start sharing some of the things I have learned in not only dealing with my past, but becoming better because of my past. It is a journey I am willing to share with you. Whether it takes us far or not I do not know for I have never before attempted such a venture.
Perhaps, my willingness to share at this time is due in part to the passing of both my parents removing them from any pain that my words might cause. It is also surely in part due to our fine sons who exemplify everything fathers and husbands should be. And, certainly seeing our grandchildren growing up loved, guided, & happy plays a big part in my willingness to begin blogging about my life's journey.
I hope to offer some help to those who might find it here. Here one can remain anonymous. Maybe, the followings blogs will begin a new journey with those who wish to partake. So, let's see what happens. :-)
Don was born in North Minneapolis, Minnesota. Having served twenty-two years in South Africa as missionaries with his wife Kathy, and eight years pastoring in the United States, he shares unique perspectives about life, family, relationships, and ministry.