ESCAPE FROM STRESS by Michael Young
Though we may go about our everyday lives in different ways, we all have one thing in common, and that’s stress. Whether it’s the tension of work, relationships, finances, or simply growing older, stress takes a toll on our wellbeing and happiness.
There are three milestones in our lives that many consider significant. It’s when we reach 18, 40, and 60 years of age.
For a young person just turning 18, this is an exciting time of life. There are new feelings of joy and liberty. You are now an adult and have more say in your future. You experience the freedom of choice and the luxury of time. The world is your oyster and you are on a quest for pearls.
If you feel any stress at this age, it’s the stress of indecision and impatience. The stress comes from inexperience and often with making mistakes and suffering the consequences of impulsive judgment. But at this age your energy is high and your recovery quick. Optimism prevails. However, caution is needed. Your youthful enthusiasm for all things new, can deceive you into thinking that tomorrow is a long way off.
By the time you turn 40, you’ve acquired a collection of life experiences. Some immensely satisfying, some not so much. You become reflective. You measure choices made against the realities of your relationships and accomplishments in life. You also become more aware that the clock is ticking. Stress and doubt can be overwhelming at times. You ask yourself, “What is it that will really make me content? What can I achieve in the time left to me? What are the course corrections that have to be made?” You may find yourself at a crossroads. During this struggle, many make painful or regrettable life altering decisions. Insecurity settles in and seems as if it’s there to stay. Some identify with the words of an old Kris Kristofferson song, “He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction. Taking every wrong direction, on his lonely way back home.” There are other profound questions that beg answers as well. The search for a clear and satisfying course of action can remain with you throughout your 40’s and beyond.
At age 60, one is usually more secure and confident. You’ve learned to live with choices made, and the way you manage your reality. Life can be very enjoyable when one feels rooted, loved, and self-assured. Indeed many seniors say they are more contented at this stage of their life than ever before. But you also become more aware of your mortality. It’s around age 60 that you experience the stress of loss. You begin losing dear family members and friends. Health problems arise. You ask yourself, “Where did the time go? Who is this gray headed stranger that stares back at me in the mirror each day? What will become of me? What about my family and other loved ones?” This kind of stress can be the most damaging. It is acute because you realize there is nothing you can do to stop this advance. You learn to live each day as it comes because planning your future is less easy than when you were 18. And Yikes! It dawns on you that yesterdays tomorrow has finally arrived.
However, your journey is by no means ending. It’s not time to hang out the closing sign. From 18 to 60 our lives are a series of twists and turns, with each day bringing its own challenges and joys, disappointments and successes. As a senior now, it’s easy to despair as you sense a rockier road ahead. But don’t. Your lifetime of lessons learned can strengthen you during your remaining years. Perhaps for decades if you are fortunate. Depending on your attitude, this era can be very satisfying and rewarding. Living in the present is a good thing. New experiences never before contemplated, can be enjoyed. For example: Learn to swing dance. Attend a Russian Ballet (in Russia), or go on Safari. Mentor a child, write a self-published book, or learn to make chocolates. Do whatever toots your horn. Make it personal. By demonstrating commitment, you may see through new eyes and feel with reawakened emotions. The quest is yours and the to-do list can be endless.
Unfortunately this isn’t always a zero sum endeavor. Affording expensive adventures such as international travel, may not be possible. The current economic state of the nation has drastically affected us all. Pensions have dried up, investment portfolios have shrunk, and even social security pay outs are questionable. These are difficult times, hard to manage. Despite this, I think most of us can agree that genuine happiness doesn’t depend on money. Wealth is not what you own, but what you do! The most satisfying happiness results when we keep things simple, pay close attention to our relationships, give of ourselves, and nurture the qualities of good character. Even if you have limited means, arranging your affairs to enjoy a life filled with enriching personal growth, is one of the best ways to apply your financial resources. This is something anyone can practice. Quixotic? Perhaps. Immensely satisfying? Absolutely!
I offer this metaphor for your consideration: “Our 60’s can be equated with a fine wine or brandy.” Do you know what makes a particular vintage especially good? Two things: Careful aging, and rocky soil. The stress effect of rocky soil increases the sugar content and zest of the fruit. With time and proper cultivation, a winemaker can smooth bitter tannins and reduce the build-up of acid. Likewise, if we too pay attention to our growth, we can benefit from the effects of stress and be mellowed by the aging process. The result can be an exquisite and memorable flavor. Just right!
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One other important issue: Let go of the past! Release any guilt you may still carry from bygone times. By mustering the courage and determination to face today and tomorrow on their own threshold, you open the door to myriad possibilities. You may also serve as a good example to those following in your footsteps. Once more the world can be your oyster, with even greater pearls yet to be discovered.
All this being said, note that stress will affect everyone at some point in their life. There is no escape from stress, only relief. One must learn how to handle it. Though we’ve identified three commonly difficult transitional ages, extreme stress doesn’t always happen at some predefined milestone. But when it does come, even mild stress can affect your health, your energy, your outlook on life, and your association with others. There is no single remedy for stress relief either. Though there is a long list of drugs to manage stress, the list of their side effects is equally long. What we really need are natural stress relief techniques which are very effective and at the same time don’t have many side effects.
When seeking relief from stress, take these important steps: Never worry alone. Hold fast to your loved ones. Be mild mannered and gentle in all your dealings with others. Leave room in your heart to help someone else weather their storms, or slay their dragons. Encourage one another. Build one another up. By helping others, we help ourselves. Yes, real happiness comes only when shared. One can never give enough hugs, say enough “I love you’s,” or send enough “I miss you’s.” Don’t put it off till tomorrow. By acting today, your stress will dissolve and leave you in peace.