Tiny Buddha: 5 Signs of Chronic Stress
- Editor’s Note: This is a contribution by Gaia Mori“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” ~Norman Cousins“What is happiness?” What a completely dense and loaded question this is.During my studies in psychology, one of the main principles we learned about writing a manuscript is the importance of defining what you are discussing. If I were to write a paper about happiness, I would then need to operationally define happiness in terms that allowed everyone to understand what I was referring to.The problem with this, however, is that we then merely repeat the best definition we come by, thinking we understand the meaning while never truly questioning our own thoughts on the matter; therefore never truly experiencing it.I believe this happens in the majority of circumstances, and know that I did this for many years. It is much simpler to just go along with life rather than ask yourself those true and deep questions that will rattle your world.My whole life I have been searching for tranquility, to feel at peace within myself, for “happiness.”After a traumatic adolescence, I spent my life in fear, seeking control to make up for that which was taken from me. This brought me an abundance of pain and so much confusion.But I thought I would no longer be hurt if I could control everything around me. This, for obvious reasons, never worked, and I couldn’t seem to understand why.A special person in my life always taught me to question what I’m told. On the subject of happiness, he said that he had never heard a definition that made sense to him, and therefore, didn’t believe happiness existed.This was the saddest thing I have ever heard. It inspired me to find a definition that would touch his heart.Unfortunately, like with most things in life, this relationship ended, and I was never able to give him my definition. But I was still very much determined to define it, if not for him then for myself.It wasn’t until I began writing a research paper on death and mortality for my master’s studies that I truly understood what happiness is.My research was investigating the effects of mortality salience—simply put, how humans react to the realization that we are perpetually vulnerable to permanent obliteration for reasons that we can never anticipate or control. This was quite the handful to absorb, and many people whom I talked with experienced great difficulty coming to terms with the principle.They frequently told me that doing a paper on death would make them depressed, and things of that nature. I had a different experience: The more I read on death and mortality, the calmer and more peaceful I found myself.It took a few days for me to realize that this tranquility I was experiencing was the happiness I had been searching for all along; this fear of death and happiness are very closely related.If I could talk to that person again and explain to him what I think happiness is, I would explain to him that it is the coming to terms with this inevitable culmination.I believe happiness is the complete mindful attention and bliss found in the present moment; the present moment is beautiful and fundamentally perfect. Therefore, one must choose to be happy right now in the present, because this is all that exists.Many years ago, I read a quote by the Dalai Lama, which I think is very applicable to this. He reported that when something is wrong, you can either fix it, and therefore it will work out and there is no need to worry, or there is nothing you can do, and therefore worrying about it is moot.When one truly and with every fiber of their being accepts death and the mystery of the future, there is nothing left but to appreciate the present moment. I believe this is where happiness stems from because it really puts things into perspective.I have been experimenting with this, and as a person who frequently worries, thinks too much, and feels often overwhelmed by life, I have found immense peace and tranquility from this acceptance.For me, it completely shifted my perspective on everything. I have been able to stay calm and resilient in situations that would normally bring on a panic attack or devastate me.This, of course, doesn’t mean that my life is now all roses and butterflies, but that this new perspective aids me in gauging situations and reacting to them as I think I should rationally, not instinctively.Ultimately, there is no way to know how your life will play out in ten minutes, and hour, or a week. Happiness is the value of every moment and the full attention paid to it.Hopefully, one day, people will stop looking at death with fear and use it to make their life more valuable. Knowledge is power, and this, I believe, is a true key to happiness.Photo by mindfulnessEditor’s Note: This is a contribution by Kara Heissman“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” ~SocratesA few years ago, the focal point of my life was my work. It took up and made up a huge portion of my life. In retrospect, I would even say that work became a sort of obsession. I became so obsessed with being productive that I set aside almost every minute of my waking hours for some work-related activity.I even coupled meals with work; toilet breaks meant mentally drafting reports and traffic jams signaled the start of phone meetings. You may look at this picture and think of me as an efficient multi-tasker. I honestly hope I was that, but no. I was nothing but a person trapped inside “too busy” cycle.Some people perceive being “too busy” as a sign of success or a flourishing career. Although this can be true, being constantly overworked and overwhelmed has more detrimental than positive effects. Being crazy-busy implies stress; and our body can only take so much pressure before it activates its stress response and runs on “survival or panic mode.”Stress can be helpful and motivating to some degree, but substantial evidence shows that chronic exposure to high levels of stress prompts the body to release hormones called glucocorticoids, which can potentially damage several body systems.When I learned about the gravity of chronic stress and my overly busy life, I made an effort to change my habits and keep everyday stress to a minimum. There are so many ways to effectively manage stress, but you can do so only after you actually notice and admit that you are indeed too busy and too stressed out.I have listed below some of the things that have made me realize that my “busyness” was out of hand.
1. I was always looking for something.Searching for my car keys, phone, wallet, jewelry, eyeglasses, and documents became a part of my daily routine. Things seemed to be misplaced or lost all of the time.Cortisol, the hormone released when you are stressed, damages the brain over time and can lead to memory problems. But aside from that, when we are stressed out, our thoughts tend to be all over the place; and this lack of focus and the disorganized thoughts could very well cause us to lose track of things.
2. I’d get inappropriately infuriated by the smallest things.Stress made me a grumpy, unhappy, moody woman. I’d get angry over the smallest mistakes of others and get irritated by just about anything.When we are stressed, our minds are so overloaded that we are unable to logically and calmly process situations and information. Hence, we have less and less tolerance for mistakes and irregularities.Furthermore, stress often causes us to lose sleep. And not getting enough sleep can cause a depletion of the neurotransmitter called serotonin which plays a role in calming us down during stressful times.
3. I woke up every single day feeling tired.It was awful waking up in the morning feeling as if I had not gotten a single hour of sleep. I am pretty sure I slept, but when I woke up, I felt really drained and exhausted.Morning fatigue is one of the surest signs that you are overworked, overstretched, and overscheduled. The feeling of overwhelming tiredness after waking up indicates that you have not rested well during the night. You may have gone to bed and shut your eyes early but your busy mind just won’t shut down.
4. I frequently experienced headaches.Hardly a week would go by without me experiencing a terrible headache. I would often feel this tightness in my head that would extend to the back of my neck.Tension headaches are among the most common symptoms of chronic stress. Part of the body’s response to stress is muscular contraction; however, when exposure to stress is prolonged, muscles often spasm, resulting in some sort of pain or discomfort. Spasm of the muscles in the upper back, neck, and scalp area results in tension headaches.
5. I constantly felt a vague feeling of unhappiness.I was unhappy, but I could not pinpoint why exactly. Most days, I would feel really heavy and sulked for no reason at all.Stress can cause a roller coaster of emotions because it has the capacity to affect your body’s hormone levels and also cause brain disturbances. This is why a lot of people who have been exposed to a great deal of stress for a prolonged period have fallen into depression.There is nothing wrong with fulfilling your responsibilities, obligations, and duties. However, you must know how to draw the line between working for a living and living for your work. As I’ve experienced, being “too busy” reduces the quality of your life. Remember that balance is key to everything.Photo by Dawn Ashley
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