THE BLOG
04/11/2013 08:17 am ET Updated Jun 11, 2013

Stressed? Stories and Remedies From One Who's Living It

"Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are." -- Chinese proverb

Stressed? I understand how you feel. There's always too much to do, yet another deadline, numerous people demanding your attention and yes, there are even things you want to do for yourself, too -- like eating, sleeping, getting some exercise and relaxation. You are suffering from the malaise of the modern world. It is one that is increasingly harming the health and wellbeing of not only of the one who's stressed, but also the overall society.

I juggle many roles, each of which can be a full-time occupation: as an author, public speaker, coach, executive director of a nonprofit foundation, farmer, and the executor of my mother's will, and I do all this while working to maintain a loving home life and my personal physical, emotional and spiritual health; it is a huge amount to manage. Stress can easily consume me while I try to squeeze one more thing into my over-packed day. Oh, did I mention that I'm a recovering perfectionist, too?

Stress is one of the biggest contributors to illness today. During stressful periods, our immune system, digestive, and reproductive functions are repressed so that the body can deal with the perceived immediate danger. But over time, with high and frequent stress, our body functions are weakened, and we become vulnerable to viruses, bacteria, and other environmental toxins as well as the breakdown and premature ageing of our bodily systems. If that's not bad enough, Yale University research has shown that your tense mood can negatively influence the people around you!

"While situations, encounters or events may seem intrinsically 'stressful,' it is truly how an individual perceives and reacts to an event that determines whether or not the stress response is activated." -- Institute of HeartMath

OK, we know that stress can be bad for you, what can you do about it? Life is not getting simpler and the to do list keeps on getting longer. For me what has worked best is to stop. Stop whatever I'm doing or stressing about and asking myself the question, "What is the worst that is going to happen if this didn't work out?" The worst fear in my mind is usually even more dreadful than what really could happen. That gives me perspective and calms me a bit.

Then I ask myself, is this in line with my life purpose? When we look at the bigger picture of what's most important, we realize that the issue we are dealing with probably is not going to kill us or the ones we love. The next step is to assess the situation and determine what we can do to take care of it. Breathing deeply and regularly helps to steady my mind and some physical movement, as simple as shrugging my shoulders, moving my arms and walking helps shift my anxiety to allow me to re-center. Once I am more relaxed, the solutions appear easier. Sometimes just stepping away from the challenge for a while gives me a clearer approach to resolving it.

Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., author of Fried: Why You Burn Out and How to Revive outlines four key stress reduction points in my book, The Happiness Choice, to help you manage stress and to enjoy your life:

  1. Learn your stress profile. Are you stress hardy, an optimist, or a pessimist? What is your level of manageable stress? With understanding of your stress profile you will know when you need to pay extra attention.
  2. Manage your stress. Make time for meditation, and quiet time to build up equanimity in your psyche. Recognize and be alert to when you are caught in your own story then consciously breathe deeply to release tension, and let go of the fight to be right.
  3. Take periodic breaks, and have fun! A key to health and happiness is allowing for some down time, and the chance to laugh. Simple things like being in nature, taking a walk, or spending time on a hobby are all rejuvenating.
  4. Remember that life is meant to be filled with pleasure and appreciation. Just believing that life is to be enjoyed puts our mindset into a positive mode, and we can deal with challenges better than if we are perpetually pessimistic.

"No medicine cures what happiness cannot." -- Gabriel García Marquez

I would be joking if I told you that I'm serene all the time. I still have bouts of anxiety of having to be perfect from my childhood-ingrained conditioning. What I am now able to do quicker is to identify the stress symptoms and go into my "stop, ask, assess, breathe, resolve" process as I explained above.

Life is a continuous discovery and adventure. How we choose to deal with each circumstance is up to us. We can choose to recognize and let go of unhealthy stress. May you always live knowing that indeed at all times we have a choice. Your good health, happiness and life depend on it!

Marilyn Tam wrote her new book, The Happiness Choice - The Five Decisions that Take You From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be so that others may benefit from what she learned, often through painful experience on how to be happy, healthy and have a dynamically balanced life. Many experts in the five key aspects of life: Body, Relationships, Money, Spirit, and Community contributed to the book. This includes Joan Borysenko PhD, Jack Canfield, Arielle Ford, MJ Ryan, Harville Hendrix PhD, Michael Galizter MD and many more leaders in their fields. All share personal stories, insights and expertise on the key factors that influence our lives. Each talk about their personal life purpose and their secrets to happiness. You can get more free insights and find out about Marilyn on her website http://www.marilyntam.com/books.html and connect with her on facebook

Marilyn Tam is an international selling author, speaker, entrepreneur, humanitarian and former CEO of Aveda, President of Reebok Apparel Products & Retail Group and VP of Nike and the Founder and Executive Director of Us Foundation.

For more by Marilyn Tam, click here.

For more on stress, click here.

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