When Stress Turns Serious: First Things First

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When Stress Turns Serious: First Things First

Sprinting to catch up with my 2-year old grandson as he ran down the driveway toward the street, I was stressed, however this was “good” stress. The stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline provided the energy I needed to respond quickly to a potentially dangerous situation. I also recovered quickly because he didn’t run too far or too fast; and this stressful event occurred during a relaxed weekend family outing.

Stress, however, turns serious when we are exposed to stressors with a high degree of frequency. Our body and mind are not designed to be handle chronic stress well. We need breaks in order to recover and recharge. Without intervention and healthy lifestyles, stress accumulates mercilessly.

To minimize our exposure to the impact of negative stress it is helpful to know and identify its developmental stages. They are:
• Burnout
• Burn through
• Meltdown

Some simple analogies will help you identify where you stand. Burnout is like having a flat tire at 1:00 am, and you’re sitting on the side of the road without a spare or cell phone. Burn through, the second stage, follows. You’re burnt out, however there doesn’t seem to be any options. You’re certain that you can’t do anything about it. You decide to keep driving with a flat tire, pushing ahead on your wheel’s rim hoping that you reach safety. Burn through is not sustainable. Without intervention, it usually proceeds to the final stage, Meltdown. Here, medical costs skyrocket as our health tanks, relationships suffer or end, and jobs might be lost. It’s not pretty.

Where are you? Most of us have been at the Burnout stage at some point in our lives. I certainly was early in my work life. I found little if any satisfaction from the work that I was doing as an engineer working for a Fortune 200 company. I’d come home tired and frustrated, make some dinner, go to bed and wake up the next morning to do it all over again. Then one day a good friend invited me to accompany him to a talk about meditation and its benefits. My life was never the same after that evening.

First Things First

During the presentation, I decided to enroll in the course that the teacher was promoting. He said that there was something missing in most people’s lives, and its inside not outside in the world. I was intrigued and realized that I had nothing to lose by giving this a try.

My meditation teacher used to say: Water the root, to enjoy the fruit. A skilled gardener knows that the plant or tree needs nourishment in order to thrive. And the place to nourish it is at the root. Meditation does this by taking our conscious attention to the deep quietest levels of our awareness. It was a game changer for me.

I found myself looking forward to returning home at the end of the workday to meditate. I would sit, then close my eyes and begin this effortless mental technique. My awareness settled down and my body began to rest. After 15 – 20 minutes, I’d open my eyes and feel refreshed and happier. The entire evening was more satisfying. The trauma in my life and the heaviness that it brought was melting away in each meditation. There was light at the end of the tunnel. I was so much happier.

My meditation experience also stimulated an interest in reading self-help books. One of the excellent books that I read was written by Stephen Covey, Ph.D. – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Without intending to do so, I was developing one of the 7 habits – doing First Things First. Dr. Covey suggested that we decide what is important to us and then put that high on our priority list, i.e. take action on it.

When I assessed what was important to me, I put my health at the top of the list. You might have something else at the top. That’s OK. We’re all different and have different values and interests. Having made and prioritized the list, I took the next step and wrote action steps that would help me be healthier. Meditation was at the top of my good health list, and I was already doing that twice every day. It was obvious one item on my health list needed attention: exercise. From that day forward, I exercised more regularly and enjoyed it more. I committed myself to doing things that are important to me.

Now, here’s a challenge: how do you find time to do the things that are important? For example, people often ask me how I find the time to meditate twice a day. Well, it’s easier than you think.

First, take an inventory of the activities of your life. Then, identify what’s important and what’s of less importance. Also, look at the urgencies of your life. The things that are shouting at you to do them now. Make some lists. A key to finding time for what’s important to you is to minimize the things that have less importance to your life. For me, to make the time to meditate 10 – 20 minutes twice a day, means less TV, less shopping, less social media, web surfing. Is it worth it? You bet.

To get started, take it one day at a time – it’s a process. When you stumble, pick yourself up and begin again. You have nothing to lose by doing First Things First. Oops, I must correct myself, you will lose something – much of the stress in your life!

Greg Schweitzer
Director, Stress Reduction Resources


Cathy Abreu

May 10, 2018at 3:58 pm

Hi Greg. You made some excellent points in your essay. I’m working through a course to become a certified whole health educator and found the courses on stress and how long term stress affects our adrenal glands and immune system especially interesting.

Your discussion about meditation offers an excellent tool for managing stress on a deep level for long term well being. I don’t manage to fit in two times a day, but start every morning with yoga and meditation. It’s changed my life as well!

Greg S.

May 10, 2018at 6:18 pm

Hi Cathy, I am glad that you enjoyed the article, and that you’re experiencing the benefits of a daily yoga and meditation practice. Be well!

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