Stress can take its toll on your health

Stress can take its toll on your health.  Unabated, it can shorten your life.  I keep telling myself this, since it’s been a long time bug-a- boo for me. You see, I’m a chronic worrier.
Stress comes in many wrappings.  More commonly, it comes from our dodgem affair with everyday life: work, relationships, unemployment, health issues, a loved one’s death.  I bet you could add to the list. There’s enough to go around, that’s for sure.
A lot of times, we can’t avoid stress.  It’s the entrance fee for pursuing a full life.  We may sometimes wish for lotus land, but it’s in the striving, not escape, we achieve and find fulfillment.  Mark Twain, a guy increasingly compelling for me in his common sense observations, said he would find heaven a boring place. I agree.  
But as I hinted, sometimes stress is of our own making.  Like an ulcer, it can erode life’s joy. I consider myself relatively intelligent and rational, yet I worry a lot, even about little things, like Did I say the right thing? What will people think?  Did I sign the check I just stashed in the envelope?  
Lately, as an older person, I’ve been worried about my health. My body doesn’t work as well. Increasingly, I’ve had to turn sentry to preserve what health remains. Like a car gathering miles, things start to go wrong, sometimes suddenly.
I think my recent nemesis, or anxiety, has its more immediate source in a common human malady: the angst of mortality.  When we’re young, we don’t think about it much, at least most of us. As I write, I think of Auden’s exquisite poem, “Musee des Beaux Arts,” with its allusion to children for whom grief and death, the epitomies of life’s drama, absent themselves in the intensity of their play.
When we get older, we become more aware.  We take insurance and what we pay is determined by scientifically based actuary tables.  
We all worry, but some of us worry far too much, gashing the tree of life in getting too close with our weed-eater approach, trimming away life’s unevenness.
Buddhism has it right in its simple maxim that all suffering comes of desire.  We want too much what we often lack power to control. With acceptance comes peace. This is the great moral of Sophocles’ ancient, yet still riveting play, Oedipus the King, its protagonist determined to outwit Fate.
Worrying comes from a need to control, when what we really need is to let go. Things get a whole lot lighter when we hurl our sack of anxieties over the mountain side.
You see, the best of living comes with living in the moment.  The past is what it is, and we’re not guaranteed a future.
I’m not there yet. The trail up the mountain is arduous in its steep, but I’m making the trek, one step at a time. I have found wise counsel, helpful books, and to my delight, yoga with its progressive relaxation postures, deep breathing, and meditation aspects. I’m curious about Tai Chi.
I’ve been learning to replace negative thoughts, the source of emotional pain, with positive alternatives. I have returned to daily physical exercise, a great stress-buster, too.
I am worrying less. I enjoy life more.

Author: RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.

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