You had been sound asleep, but now bolt upright, wide awake, heart pounding wildly in your chest. You strain to hear any further sounds beyond the thumping of your heart.
Just as you get ready to lie back down on your pillow after reassuring yourself that you must have been dreaming, you hear another sound that shouldn’t be happening in the house at this time of night.
Any intentions of going back to sleep are forgotten. You are fully awake; your body on high alert, in anticipation of whatever threat is there. Just as if you had opened your front door and came face to face with a snarling tiger, your brain has registered danger.
In the blink of an eye your heart, circulatory system, adrenal glands, stomach, intestines, kidneys, liver, brain – in fact almost every organ in your body has been activated in some way with hormones and chemicals to meet this danger. Your hands feel clammy, your feet cold and fear has created a hard knot in the pit of your stomach.
But wait! What if we could eliminate it? Would that be a good thing?
NO! Because we can’t live without stress.
“Stress is the body’s nonspecific response to the demands placed upon it”, says Hans Selye, MD, professor, and research scientist who spent a lifetime researching and explaining the body’s physiological response to stress. (See his book, “Stress Without Distress”)
Our body is constantly adapting to changes. If we couldn’t adapt, we would be unable to go to work, make plans and keep ourselves safe. It is stress that allows us to respond to whatever is happening. It enables us to adapt to any new situation, whether it is cheering at a football game or responding to a threat. It is how we are able to respond to life: mentally, emotionally, socially and physically.
We can’t eliminate stress, nor do we want to. It is normal and natural.
Habits are resistant to change. Replacing them takes time, commitment and dedication.
A lifestyle becomes a habit. When we are no longer satisfied with how we live, it’s time to question what we are doing. We not only need to know what isn’t working, we need to know why and what new habits can replace them that will give us a greater reward.
We resist change because there is both a comfort level and a payoff to remain where we are. Putting a new habit in place takes hard work and courage and we’ll often rationalize why it is just too difficult to change.
Make that commitment
When you have identified the areas that require new habits pick one and put together a plan of action. A plan of action will address the following:
We organize, establish routines and schedules so that we can maximize our time and achieve our goals. You may think that routines are boring and stifling, but they actually give us the freedom to become decisive and productive. They also allow us freedom to be spontaneous when we want to.
Time is relative and schedules and routines are for our benefit. They are there to serve us – not dictate our life. If they are too rigid or unrealistic, we will become frustrated and tired.
Remember to schedule “down” times, when we turn off the hassles of the day and allow ourselves time to spend doing pleasant, relaxing and fun things.
Once in place productive routines become unconscious daily habits that streamline our days. Our routines and schedule do not rule us – they are tools that allow us to live life to the fullest.
We have 24 hours every day. How you organize your time and activities within those twenty-four hours is for your benefit!
The Benefits of a Time Log
Years ago, when I was just starting out in life, I moved from my small town to the city after high school and shared an apartment with my brother and sister.
My first job paid a minimum salary and I had enrolled in night school to continue my education. I was taught the importance of putting 10% of whatever was earned into a savings account.
But I struggled just to survive, let alone save money. I felt I was prudent with my spending, but there was little money left over from each paycheck. Where was I spending my money? I wasn’t making any large purchases.
I want to do it all! I want to travel, sing and dance, write and give workshops, teach, have time for friends, read a book every day, entertain, have long conversations with good friends, etc, etc, etc.
However, I soon find myself at odds with time. There are only so many hours in a day after all and unless I can somehow come to terms with what I am able to do each day, I will soon become dis-stressed.
Since I had made the decision long ago to avoid harmful stress, the choices I make are important. While I can’t control events, I am the one who chooses to be in charge of my life. That includes how I choose to respond to events and circumstances.
So then – how do we choose between all the things we want to do?
The sun was setting, as our sailboat glided silently over the calm waters of the Columbia Bar – a stretch of treacherous water that can challenge the most rugged sailor when the tides drastically change the waters trajectory.
We were on our way home after several glorious weeks of cruising in the San Juan Islands. It took almost an hour and a half to reach Astoria.
After quickly scanning our charts, we decided we could reach a tiny cove located in the upper part of the Columbia River. Cruising at 7 knots, we continued to make our way through the expanded mouth of the river where water spread out over a wide expanse of water giving the illusion of a huge sea of navigational water. Only those who had studied their charts knew that going outside the clearly marked channels could quickly end up running aground in the surrounding shallow water.
The time has come to have that meeting with myself. I sit down with a clean pad of paper, my “Have to do” list made earlier in the week and a determination to find both short and long term solutions to the overwhelming string of demands on my time.
As is my practice, I start my session with a prayer asking God for wisdom, clarity and strength to follow through. It is so easy to gloss over the things I may be doing that contribute to my problems.
The phone hasn’t stopped ringing – the kids are fighting again – the teacher called to schedule an emergency conference about your child’s schoolwork – your boss is uncompromising as the company instigates new policies, little time for training and additional workloads for everyone – you can’t afford to lose your job – nobody seems to care – and you are exhausted.
All you want is a quiet evening of peace and quiet, free from any more problems. And then the phone rings, and you cry, “Not another problem, Lord. I can’t take anymore.”
But this time the phone call is from your best friend, who patiently listens as you unload your frustrations. But when you hang up the phone, although some of the pressure has been lifted, you know it will begin again. You have asked God for strength, thanked Him for your special friend and the daily strength He gives you. But the problems are still there and you know you can’t continue like this.
We live in stressful times, constantly bombarded with the need to go faster and faster while still maintaining a high level of productivity. With more and more single parent households, aging seniors and troubled financial times, fear and anxiety become the norm as we deal with the unknowns in our lives.
Advanced technology further complicates our choices because we are led to believe that we need to purchase all the newest electronic product or be left behind. After running all day, we plop into bed at the end of the day and hope we can get enough rest to get up in the morning and start all over again.
Our energy source has been compromised. “Normal” stress that allows us to live has been turned to “dis-stress”. And what is worse we are led to believe that is the only way we can live.
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