Stress creeps up on you like a thief and sometimes you don’t even realize what’s been stolen. This is especially true for your health. You look around one day and you notice you’ve lost the ability to do something you used to enjoy. Here are just a few of the sneaky things stress can do to you:
- You’re trying to eat better so you can get lean and healthy. Stress will drive you to your comfort foods.
- You want to add a healthy new activity to your routine. Stress will encourage you to do it later.
- You want to rest and relax. Stress creates urgency and anxiety, making rest difficult.
The biggest puzzle I struggled with in practice was why, after recovering from a problem, patients wouldn’t do the things I recommended to avoid a relapse. Sure, they followed my recommendations when pain kept them from doing what they wanted or needed. But when their pain stopped, too often they went back to the same lifestyle that led to the problem and would show up at my office in pain again a few months later. Their commitment to change was driven only by their discomfort. Stress can make us make bad choices.
There is a difficulty factor to add any new habit into your life. Stress makes that change harder. It’s uncomfortable and creates an urgency to find a way to fix it. Whether you realize it or not you are dealing with your stress right now. Maybe you crash out on the couch when you get home. Maybe you sit and search through channel after channel on your TV and never get up and do something else. These are simply ways you have learned to manage your stress.
In fact, your brain will keep offering you ways to reduce stress until one works. That’s why diets don’t work. Diets create stress and your brain will continue to offer you ways to reduce it until you pick one. Do you want a sandwich? How about a bite of that cheesecake? How about another? The demand to lower your stress is relentless and it wants you to do something NOW! In fact, most of your bad habits are directly related to your level of stress.
So to sum up, you are already dealing with stress, just in a way that doesn’t produce the results you want. But before you jump ahead of me with a promise to do better, let me make a radical suggestion. Ask yourself the following two questions and be ruthless with your answers:
1) “Where is my stress coming from?” Identify the source as best you can. Determine if it is a person or a situation (like a job).
AND NOW THE TOUGH PART…
2) “How can I reduce it?” I’m going to guess you probably are not satisfied with the way you’re reducing it right now.
If it means making a change, make it. Take the chance. Don’t look back. Every person whose life you admire found a way to overcome the stress around them and make their contribution to the world. Your contribution is worth the risk. It is an essential part of the solution to a problem or a breakthrough in someone’s life so don’t let it die in you.