As I entered the room I could feel the tension of the forty-eight individuals seated at the oblong conference tables. I was about to present a workshop to these teachers on managing stress. Conditions for educators across the nation have become increasingly more demanding as states mandate more and more changes, where parents are less involved in their children’s academic achievements, and children dominate the classroom with disrespectful behaviors. I have a family member who recently resigned from teaching due to the enormous amounts of pressure he’s been under. His doctor basically told him it was either his career or his life. In one of the most highly respected fields of employment, we are now facing a crisis of immeasurable proportions that could potentially leave us with a diminishing number of highly skilled professionals dedicated to educating our youth. While I am not able to solve their occupational issues, I could provide them with the skills and knowledge to dramatically reduce the stress in their lives so as not to cause any detriment to their abilities or their health.
When asked “Where does stress come from?” there was no shortage of responses: “the administration, the state, the ridiculous amounts of unnecessary paperwork we’re expected to handle, unruly kids, uncooperative parents”, and the list went on. Like many of us, these teachers mistakenly believe that stress comes from outside sources when the truth is that all emotions are internally generated.
Clinically, professionals tell us that stress is the result of trying to do too much in a short a period of time with inadequate information and insufficient resources to complete said task. Additionally, stress comes from seeking the approval of others, from needing to control a situation (or individual), having unrealistic expectations or too much responsibility, as well as a shortage of money in relation to our expenses. And while moderate amounts of stress can actually prove beneficial and motivate us to accomplish a lot or facilitate positive changes in our lives, chronic stress is the number one cause of disease and can potentially lead to death.
In The Secret Side of Anger, I discuss the origin of all emotions: our mind. Every feeling we have is the product of our thought process. What I think about generates all of my feelings. Here’s an example: each morning I get up at 4:30. I have list upon list of everything I need to accomplish by 8 pm that evening. I create my own anxiety when I tell myself I absolutely must get it all done, as if something terrible will happen if I don’t. I don’t like feeling stressed so I simply remind myself that I will stay focused, work diligently until I reach the end of my workday, and whatever is left, if it’s important, I will continue with the following day. Likewise, if I’m on my way to an important event, such as speaking at the New Life Expo in NY City, and I’m stuck in traffic with a real possibility of being late, I remind myself that this is not the end of the world. I will simply do my best in a situation that I have no control over and when I arrive I will offer a sympathetic explanation while offering to do whatever possible to appease the situation.
Here are four tips to help you reduce the amount of tension in your life:
1. At the onset of anxiety, remember to breathe. We tend to hold our breath when we become angry, stressed or upset, depriving our brains of much-needed oxygen-rich blood. Take a few long, slow, deep breaths. You will instantly feel more relaxed.
2. Pay close attention to your internal voice. What are you saying to yourself? Are you reinforcing your nervousness or are you reminding yourself that you are completely capable of managing the situation?
3. Put everything into proper perspective. Weddings, Christmas, and surprise parties do not have to be perfect. Good is fine. Strive for enjoyable not flawless. Pay careful attention to your expectations.
4. Incorporate stress reducing activities into your daily routine. Prayer, meditation, aerobic exercise, music, yoga – whatever keeps you calm must be as much a part of your daily life as eating, brushing your teeth, and sleeping. By lowering your starting point you will find yourself less reactive to potentially stressful situations.
Remember that all emotions, including stress and anger, are self-imposed. While the world may place an enormous amount of demands on you, you have the option to decline (“no” is a legitimate response). However, if you choose to accept those challenges, keep in mind that you have freely chosen to do so, that you are more capable than you may give yourself credit for, and that unless someone’s life is in danger there is always tomorrow. “I may put off till tomorrow what I choose not to kill myself doing today.” Let that be your new mantra. The teachers gave it two thumbs up. Peace.