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!
6.5 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!
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.