Ever stumble into the dark side of stress?
Chances are, you have.
Here in the United States, roughly 75 percent of people say they regularly experience symptoms of stress. This number would be bigger, but the remaining people were too stressed to participate in a #*@% survey.
Left unchecked, excess stress can make us sick and kind of crazy. It robs us of our ability to live full, healthy, happy, calm, sane lives.
While each of us experiences stress in our own way, I hope you can learn from my recent bout of stress. The symptoms I had may help you recognize excess stress in your life. My tips may help you cope.
My stress warning signs:
After a few days, ongoing sleep deprivation left me with sexy, heavy-lidded bedroom eyes.
Sadly, the boudoir effect was offset by the corresponding dark circles and bags under my eyes, not to mention the stained mug of Triple Caffeine Overload shaking in my hand.
Racing Thoughts. Which is a disappointing symptom. Who wants problems about finances racing through her mind at, say, 3 a.m.?
Rather than racing thoughts, give me racy thoughts in the middle of the night, please. Much more enjoyable!
Darth and dreary mood.
I shuffled around like Eeyore wearing a Darth Vader costume on a rainy day. A dark cloud of self-fulfilling gloom.
I won’t elaborate.
But I do have a handy hint for you: If you are desperate for more time for yourself, the Eeyore/Darth combo is proven to deliver. Friends, family and foes alike flee without fail!
When I wasn’t being gloomy, I perfected a snarly, short-tempered persona. Not only had I forgotten how to smile, I didn’t want to.
Frowning felt good. Stewing in supreme grouchiness gave me secret satisfaction. Such dark joy when I found reason to growl or curse!
The Selfie Syndrome.
No, not me snapping pictures of me. Not me alone in my bedroom. Rather, I sank into self-centeredness.
My mind focused on me-me-me and the pressures I was dealing with. My Big and Pressing Project of the Month. My Worry of the Week. Woe Is Me.
It’s not flattering, is it?
Stress-induced self-centeredness is common: We zoom in on our problems to the point nothing else fits in our field of vision, like a small pebble held close to our face.
We are not being intentionally self-centered. We’re not narcissistic at heart.
Rather, we’re good folks who’ve lost perspective. For the moment, we can’t see that others are dealing with issues, too, and that we’re all in this together.
Let’s move on to five great ways to de-stress your life now.
Choose exercise you like—or that gets you the results you like when you’re done. For example, you might opt to play pick-up basketball, go biking or swim the English Channel.
Stress, after all, is our biological response to perceived threats. Our bodies crank out stress hormones to help us fight off or flee from physical threats, like big angry bears.
Exercise burns off excess stress energy so we can relax in peace.
Meditation can help us calm down, reducing our blood pressure and anxiety levels.
Sitting meditations are popular. But I’m currently intrigued with standing meditation, like that described in The Way of Qigong by Kenneth S. Cohen.
Yoga and tai chi are moving forms of meditation that can deliver powerful physical benefits, like improved strength, balance and flexibility, as well as greater peace of mind. I practice both yoga and tai chi and highly recommend them.
Laughter is a wonderful stress reliever.
You can sit there and force a laugh right now if you like. But hanging out with friends who make you laugh is more fun and more conducive to laughter. People are more than 30 times more likely to laugh in social settings than when alone, according to one study.
Your brain releases endorphins when you laugh. Endorphins reduce pain, make you feel good and impart a tranquilizing effect on your body. Plus, endorphins boost your immune system.
When you’re stuck in stress, try this light-hearted fantasy with a dark edge. Warning: Mean stuff is simply not allowed here.
You easily can customize this fantasy for any stressed-out state. Here’s how to it for Supreme Grouchiness.
Go where you will be alone and uninterrupted. Set a timer for three minutes. Sit or lay down. Visualize a massive Supreme Grouchiness dial. Crank it up to the highest setting so you can experience a full-out fantasy.
Ready? Imagine you’re walking a medieval forest. You are the epitome of Supreme Grouchiness and power. See the trees jump out of your way as you stride through, your purple velvet cape sweeping behind. The trees are such fools!
You are so grouchy you wither forest flowers with a glance. (Is this too dark? Don’t worry. You’re not hurting real flowers, I promise.)
Now, raise your Supreme Grouchiness scepter to command and control threatening clouds, lightning, thunder, gusts of wind and cold driving rain. Add a flourish of maniacal laughter (yours) and perhaps dark operatic music.
Touch, hear, see, taste, smell and savor your mental creation.
When the timer rings, pause. Breathe deeply. Let go of the fantasy. Let the all your grouchiness melt away. Feel yourself transform back into you—the real you. The one who’s brave, thrifty, loyal, clean and reverent. And kind. Very kind.
Then smile and set an intention to bring real goodness to real world. (Thank you.)
Helping someone is your go-to fix when you’re in the throes of the Selfie Syndrome. It’s also useful when you experience other stress states.
The key is to turn your energy from inward and centered on you to outward and focused on helping others.
Maybe you smile and get the door for the mom pushing the stroller. Drop off a bag of groceries at the food shelf. Rake a neighbor’s leaves. You get the idea. Selfless acts of kindness on any scale.
Helping someone else takes the focus off you and your troubles. You’ll instantly feel better… and so will the person you help. Do you see the win-win, the karma in the making?
Don’t let the dark side of stress get the best of you and your health. Watch for the warning signs of excess stress. If you, like the 75 percent of Americans in the survey, find yourself stressing, take steps to release it.
Then return to living your fuller, happier, healthier, calmer and saner life.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Courtesy of the author