Being told to reduce the stress in our lives is largely falling on deaf ears. Modern life is stress. There's no escape from the external pressures (technically known as "stressors") that make everyone's existence too fast-paced, too exhausting, and too demanding.
Asking people to have less stress is like asking fish to have less water. Mentally, we can try to shrug off stress because it's so prevalent, but our bodies aren't so malleable in their responses. Even an experience that might seem totally positive, like winning the lottery or going on vacation, can trigger the same stress hormones as negative events.
Most people accept that stress is harmful, excepting highly competitive types who claim to thrive on it. An adrenaline junkie might rush to skydive, free-climb a rock face without ropes, or wrestle an alligator with the positive reinforcement of media coverage that glorifies the rush of a thrill-seeking life. But medical science disagrees.
The surge of stress hormones — principally adrenaline and cortisol, which carry the stress response forward — can be interpreted by the body as a thrill. Then, the physiological reality is hidden from sight. These hormones lead to cascade of reactions, including elevated heart rate and blood pressure, intended to prepare your body to handle threatening conditions. When prolonged and repeated, the stress response starts to damage tissues and organs throughout the body.
An old joke says, "Gray hair is inherited. You get it from your children." The science shows that it turns both ways. We may care a great deal more about how stress will get passed on in our families than at work. But the best approach in both places is the same: become a healer of stress. Your behavior today is likely to have consequences far into the future.
When you have an awareness that you aren't just the victim of stress but a potential source, your behavior changes. Here are some positive choices to relieve the stress around you at work that can be applied to relationships and family as well.
How many of these positive behaviors do you practice?
- Asking others how they feel and listening to the answer.
- Not insisting that you get your own way.
- Always showing respect for everyone. Never belittling or scapegoating.
- Never criticizing someone in public.
- Accepting input from as many people as possible.
- Praising and appreciating other people's work.
- Being loyal in order to win loyalty.
- Not gossiping or backbiting.
- Waiting until you are calm before addressing a situation that makes you angry.
- Giving coworkers and employees enough space to make their own decisions.
- Being open to new ideas, no matter whom they come from.
- Not favoring a small circle to the exclusion of everyone else.
- Addressing tension as it arises instead of denying it or hoping it will solve itself.
- Not being a perfectionist who can never be satisfied.
- Treating both sexes equally.
If you have already adopted most or all of the behaviors listed here, congratulations! — You're already a healer of stress. Most of us, however, must make a conscious effort to change our ways to some degree. None of us is being subjected to lab experiments on stress, but in a very real way, our lives are the laboratories in which we confront a host of stresses.
It's up to us to become self-aware, so that we can understand and respond healthily to our experience in a world overrun by demands, pressures, and crises. The individual is the source of healing: a truth that never wears out with retelling.
Reprinted from SUPER GENES. Copyright © 2015 by Deepak Chopra, D.D., and Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D. Published by Harmony Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.
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