There is so much turmoil in our nation and in the world today, I see that people are overwhelmed and significantly stressed in trying to understand and deal with the differing scales of difficulty and stress, and prioritize them in a way that allows for some kind of reasonably balanced life.
There has always been varying levels of stress in the world on both the micro- and macro- scales, but I would venture to say that it may be occurring at several notches above the usual what has been historically known.
Within relatively recent history, WWI, the Great Depression and WWII were no cakewalks; each was extremely difficult on physical, emotional and existential levels. It could even be considered rather remarkable, if not miraculous, that human beings entered and emerged from these dark clouds of our history. Certainly, we are entering another one and a question is how far can an individual or family stretch before illness, be it physical or mental, manifests. Managing stress inwardly, and participating in managing our lives, individual, family and societally, I'm suggesting, is a key to some sense of meaning, harmony and balance.
Americans, due to what I've called for years "the pathology of affluence," have become overly-materialistic and insular. Consumption has been the cornerstone of our society and economy and commonsense, common decency and a sense of balance between matter and spirit has all but disappeared. Now we're being called out.
"Ownership of things" has become its own religion, with money as its sacrament. We are judged by the Almighty Owner of It All by how much we've acquired in this life instead of who we have become. As a result, we've become "owned" by our possessions and our attachment to the status that our bank accounts, we thought, conferred. But now, with bank accounts diminishing, and being surrounded by so much stuff we don't know what to do with it, we're realizing that one of the underlying stressors in our lives has been living a life so off track of meaning, of anything really fulfilling on a soul level, that that in itself has caused us a fundamentally existential stress at the level of core.
Once we rouse from that dream of material wealth as an answer to life's calling, we can begin to gain our sea legs again as humans emerging from the ocean. So fundamentally, to reduce stress is to get back in line, back in touch with our soul's deeper urging, and to connect with what has us feel most awake and alive. It's in this "meaning-making" that we can experience a great sigh of relief. I would say that as human beings, we are most fundamentally "meaning-makers" that are driven to survive, and when these get linked, we gain a satisfying life.
As a result of who we've largely been as a nation, it's time to become more socially conscious and caring. This is so well-exemplified in the Occupy Wall St. movement across this country and around the globe. Our insular ways have us largely absorbed with our own selves, not really connecting deeply with the pain and suffering of others. But now so many people are suffering, so many people out of work, so many children in the U.S., said to be the wealthiest nation on earth, going to bed hungry, there is no escaping the reality of what's going on. This is forcing maturation and oddly, a relief of stress. Why? When we join together in a common bond for a common purpose, and when we self-express in that context, in word and/or action, we are relieved through the group dynamic. Our lives become connected to something larger than ourselves and we find ourselves standing for something, for some, perhaps for the first time in their lives!
So to manage stress in a personal and socially-conscious way:
1. Align with your deepest sense of values, of passion, of aliveness and of meaning and live and "do" from that place.
2. Look outside yourself at the world around you and how you could possibly be of service to others.
3. Join with others in some form of group activity, whose purpose is to serve an something larger than oneself.
4. Prioritize so that you make sure you are taking care of yourself and your family, then the larger human family.
5. Say what you need to the people you've been withholding from. Speak respectfully, gently, and diplomatically, but clearly.
As a holistic psychotherapist and stress management consultant, I know that most of our techniques involve things such as imagery, breathing, Chi-Kung, bio-feedback, relaxation techniques, yoga, laughing, comedy and the like. All these are good and I recommend them to my clients, but the recommendations are customized. In this article, I want to invite the reader into a more socially-aware perspective on the causes of stress. When we see our fellow man and woman suffering, we too suffer. When we help others alleviate their suffering, ours too, our stress, becomes alleviated.
The system of nature is a fascinating one and has us all connected in ways we can't even imagine.
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