"One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's
work is terribly important."
UNTIL MID-1996, I published a home business newsletter. After fifteen years of meeting my quarterly, and later bimonthly, publishing deadlines (which seemed to get closer with each passing issue), I finally admitted to myself that I just couldn't do it any longer.
Shortly before Christmas, 1995, I suddenly felt that I had to get rid of the newsletter immediately . . . or else. Without thinking about it further, I picked up the phone, called a publisher friend, and made arrangements for her to take over my subscriber obligations the following spring.
Stress and Blood Pressure
Something interesting happened shortly afterward that taught me an important lesson about the connection between stress and high blood pressure. I had normal blood pressure readings all my life, until early 1995 when they suddenly shot up to 160 over 100 and stayed there all year. The doctor said this could be due to overweight, age, or stress, and warned that I might need medication if it continued to rise.
After making the decision to get rid of my newsletter, I had a restful and stress-free Christmas holiday because I could suddenly see the end of something that had been getting more difficult for me with each passing year. When I went in for a routine medical checkup the first of February, I was astonished to learn that my blood pressure was 118 over 76, lower than ever before. Since I hadn't gotten any younger or lost any weight, I knew there could be only one explanation for it:
In talking to my doctor about my unusual blood pressure experience, he reminded me that while we may not consciously feel stressed by something we're doing, our subconscious mind feels it nonetheless and our body responds accordingly. As I see it, the more pressured I felt about having to meet yet another deadline for the newsletter, the more my subconscious mind registered this stress. Although I thought I had my stress under control, my blood pressure readings proved otherwise.
If your blood pressure readings have been rising lately, maybe you don't need medication. Maybe you just need to stop doing that particular thing you wish you didn't have to do any more. It's not easy to make a major change in your personal or business life, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and do it. As you think about this, consider these words of advice from S. H. Payer in his poem, Live Each Day to the Fullest:
Identifying "Life Stressors"
To lower the stress in your life, you must first identify those things that stress you most. Make a list, dividing it into two columns: things you do to stress yourself (even though you know better), and stressful things over which you have little or no control.
One thing you can always control, however, is how you react to any stressful situation or person in your life. Will you choose to respond negatively or positively? If you happened to catch Barbara Walter's 20/20 interview with Christopher Reeve shortly after his accident, you got a great lesson in positive thinking. I doubt there was a dry eye in America that evening as Christopher smiled and said he didn't know why this thing had happened to him, but there had to be a reason and he was going to find it.
The way Thomas Edison reacted to a terrible tragedy in his life offers another example. In December, 1914, when he was 67 years old, the Edison labs were almost completely destroyed by fire. Lost were some two million dollars worth of equipment and the record of almost all of Edison's life work. His son reported that as he was walking through the charred remains the next day, Edison said:
Are You a Thermometer or Thermostat?
I have finally learned that, where day-to-day stress is concerned, one can be either a thermometer or a thermostat. If you're a thermometer, you will allow people and life situations to raise your blood pressure and bring your temperature to a boil, needlessly stressing your mind and body time and time again. If you're a thermostat, however, you will take control and consciously decide not to let certain people or situations cause undue stress in your life.
Take impatience and anger, for example. When your doctor keeps you waiting for an hour, you have the choice of getting angry because he or she has wasted an hour of your precious time, or you can anticipate a wait and go with a book or notebook in hand so you can put that time to good use. When you get stuck in traffic, you can either bang the steering wheel in anger and utter words best left unsaid, or accept the situation, take a deep breath, and relax.
When standing in a long line at a checkout counter, you have the choice of getting angry at the sales clerk for being so slow, or you can make that person's day by smiling and offering a gentle word when he or she finally gets to your order. Just think how stressed sales clerks must be at the end of a day after having to deal with impatient customers all day long. By doing something to ease another person's stress, you'll find you've automatically eased your own.
Charles Swindoll, whose radio ministry airs daily worldwide, has a great sense of humor, and I like his definition of stress: "It's the confusion created when one's mind overrides the body's desire to choke the living daylights out of some jerk who desperately needs it."
In his inspirational book, The Finishing TouchBecoming God's Masterpiece, Swindoll offers this insight on how daily conflicts increase our stress:
Do you often find yourself rushing about doing errands or trying to finish a job by a certain deadline? If so, ask yourself what's the worst thing that could happen if you didn't get everything done within the time frame you originally envisioned?
Take a tip from someone who used to stress herself to death needlessly and refuses to do it anymore: Give yourself a break and do some of your work the next day, the next week, or the next month. If you or I were to die tomorrow, the world would go on without us whether our work was done or not.