Written by Jenny Smiechowski, staff writer for The Birches
We all want to age successfully. We want to stay strong, capable and joyful so we can enjoy our later years, rather than suffer through them in pain, limitation and loneliness.
But is it possible to age successfully when you’re in a constant state of stress?
The answer is no.
Stress steals your joy, energy, vitality and, in many cases, your health. Did you know, for example, that stress is a contributing factor in the six leading causes of death in the U.S.? Cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injuries, respiratory disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide are all caused or aggravated by stress.
That means if you want health and longevity, you need to take a long, hard look at your stress level. And since April is Stress Awareness Month, there’s no better time to do that.
Begin by noticing what triggers stress in your daily life. Is it an email from your boss? An argument with a spouse or family member? A financial burden? A physical illness? All the above? Once you know what makes you feel stressed, you can start taking steps to reduce your stress.
In fact, a few years back, Masterpiece Living President Dr. Roger Landry wrote an article about stress for U.S. News & World Report, and he shared a tip for overcoming stressful situations that’s simple but incredibly helpful. He said that once you identify a stressor in your life, you have three choices: fix it, walk away or accept it.
This advice is helpful, because when you’re stressed, finding a solution can feel overwhelming. But if you think about these three choices every time you’re in a stressful situation, the solution to your stress will arise naturally. Just ask yourself three questions whenever stress starts to take over:
#1 Can I fix the source of my stress? Sometimes stress can be solved or reduced by being proactive. If your lengthy commute is making you stressed, ask if you can work from home a few days per week. If a strange mole has you worrying about cancer, go to the doctor and get it checked out. If you can’t keep up with chores and yardwork at home, hire a cleaning person or landscaper to ease your load. When you can take practical action to make a situation in your life less stressful, you absolutely should. It’s the most straightforward approach to managing stress.
#2 Can I walk away from the source of my stress? Sometimes a stressful situation can’t be remedied no matter how much you try. Maybe working from home isn’t an option, so you’re stuck with your long commute. Or you’re in a demanding, stressful friendship or partnership that doesn’t improve no matter what you do. When that’s the case, it’s time to evaluate whether you can walk away from the stressful situation. There will be times when the best thing you can do for yourself is leave behind a situation that’s causing you significant stress. It’s not always easy, but it’s better than the alternative—allowing chronic stress to sabotage your happiness and health.
#3 Can I accept the source of my stress? There will be times when you can’t fix the source of your stress or walk away from it. Maybe your stress comes from a job you can’t leave because of financial commitments. Or an ill family member. Or your own physical illness. If your stress comes from something that’s an unavoidable part of your life, then you can reduce your stress through mental acceptance. Many times, when something unpleasant happens in our lives, we spend a lot of mental energy resisting it. We think about how bad it is, and how much we don’t want it to be happening. But if we stop thinking these thoughts and just accept the situation for what it is, our stress lessens a lot. Another helpful way to accept challenges in our lives and reduce stress is by staying present. Much of our stress comes from regretting the past or worrying about the future. Remind yourself that you can’t change the past or predict the future. So, the least stressful place for you to place your attention is on the moment you’re experiencing right now.
If this approach to tackling stress sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because it’s similar to the Serenity Prayer. Even if you’re not a religious person, you’ve probably heard the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
There’s a reason it’s called the serenity prayer—it makes you feel serene. And serenity is the opposite of stress. Hopefully, by applying these three questions to your life, you’ll experience less stress and more serenity as you continue your successful aging journey.
“Masterpiece Living at Home” is a blog series that helps you stay engaged socially, intellectually, physically and spiritually, so you can age healthfully and successfully.