“Patience and time do more than strength or passion.” -Jean de la Fontaine
Most of our lives are lived at such a fast pace that it leaves us feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted. Not only that, but we also feel like we can never get enough done. Almost every minute of the day is scheduled and/or there’s a seemingly never ending to-do list hanging over our heads. Everyone deals with the hectic pace of life in different ways. I tend to go between either manically working in overdrive or, on the other end of things, trying to distract myself in an attempt to escape (Netflix and pizza anyone? I even have moments of true weakness where Candy Crush calls my name…).
This isn’t just a problem for adults. In my high school classes I see more and more students who are stressed out not only about homework and tests, but also about drama with friends and family (it should probably be “Drama” with a capital D…), after school activities, part-time jobs, and of course the many changes that are happening to them physically, emotionally and socially as they become independent adults. Simply figuring out who they are and their place in the world is stressful enough.
Unfortunately, living in a constant state of stress takes its toll both physically and mentally. When we’re stressed out we become tired and can’t sleep well. Either that or we sleep too much. (Though sleep is one of the best things that you can do when you’re very stressed out. A lot of times our bodies just need that rest. I know if I live in a constant state of stress for too long my body will decide that I need a break and get sick so that I have no choice but to get some rest.) When you’re stressed it is difficult to perform at your peak level in whatever you’re doing, and it is difficult to learn. Learning requires risk and change. If we’re stressed we’re not going to want to take that chance.
Dealing with stress is one of the best things that we can do for ourselves and for the children in our lives. To my mind there are two main ways to deal with it. The first is being proactive and preventing what causes stress in our lives in the first place. We need to simplify and learn how to focus on the most important things in our lives. Think of the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule: 20% of what we do really brings about results, while 80% of what we do has very little effect. Now, I’m not saying that our lives need to be all about being productive. But, I think that if we really took a good look at our to-do lists we could probably cut out a good chunk of what really isn’t that important and focus on the smaller amount that really is important to us. Simplification of our lives brings freedom.
Once we’ve figured out what’s really worth worrying about and what’s not truly important another important aspect of preventing stress is taking our time and fostering patience in ourselves and others. What would it look like to focus on what we’re doing, be it mundane or not, in an almost meditative way? (I love the book “Flow”, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi by the way.) Being fully present and focused on the now is one of the greatest gifts that we can give to ourselves and to others.
The second main way of dealing with stress is by figuring out ways of coping with it. The trick is finding the ways that are healthy. One of the simplest ways to deal with stress in the moment is to take slow, deep breaths. One way that I learned from my Hapkido instructor, Alain Burrese, is to breathe in through your nose to a slow count of four, hold it to a slow count of four, breathe out through your mouth to a slow count of four, and then rest with no breathing for a slow count to four. Do this several times while just focusing on your breathing and you will be amazed at how much it can help to calm your body and mind down. Other ways of dealing with stress could include talking with friends, getting some exercise (even a short walk can do wonders), doodling or drawing, taking a hot bath, reading a good book, listening to some music, or pretty much anything that gives you a short break yet also re-energizes you. Think of the things that bring a smile to your face or help you to feel calm and at peace.
The challenge for all of us is to bring some sanity to our lives so that we can live more fully. Focus on what is truly important, take your time, relax, and give yourself the freedom to do so. Too much of the time we live our lives like it’s a race with one sprint after the other. Even if you buy into that metaphor (I think there are better ones out there) life is more akin to a marathon than to a sprint. Take the time to be the river that slowly cuts through the rock. Eventually your work will make a bigger impact than you may realize.