It’s summer, so why are people so anxious? Enjoying the guilty pleasure of reading the newspaper one day you learn 1. College students stuffed with anxiety are overwhelming college health services 2. Young investment bankers and hedge funders overcome by work are jumping out of windows 3. South Koreans terrified of MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) are staying away from doctors and hospitals for fear of infection and –
When it comes to international stress, this is a very long list. But it’s still summer. Life is not riskless, fate and chance will still steer our lives, but trees are bursting into flower and beaches are flooding with tourists. So here are a few short tips for surviving summer:
1. You’re not a machine. Please please don’t treat yourself like one.
Best of all, you get to rest. Machines don’t have chance to replenish, remake and renew themselves. You do.
For the really dirty secret is that rest is exciting. Rest involves a lot more than lying on your bed stunned by that early morning alarm, or lying semi-conscious on the couch sprawled before the television. Rest engages all the activities that renew and remold you, taking in all the physical, mental, social and spiritual elements of well-being you can muster – or imagine. So here are some fun ways to use it to steer yourself through summer stress:
2. Get physical. People enjoy moving. They enjoy walking. They enjoy nature. They love watching water. They feel better under the sun. Brief bursts of high activity improve mood and alertness.
So when your boss tells you to postpone your vacation (and daughter’s wedding) to fly off and fix finance failures in Malaysia, your first move might be to go outside and walk. If that’s impossible, a quick jaunt to the facilities may be in order, followed that very evening (thoughts of Tom Hanks make you balk on that flight) by a stroll in the park with your spouse and friends.
3. Try to think of solutions, not just problems. Then write down your problems with the solutions. One would expect this cognitive-behavioral approach to have infiltrated much of personal and corporate decision making, but that is yet to be. The future is uncertain – and that requires us to plan. So when things are not working – and more especially, when they are – write down what you’re worried about and what you think you can do. Have Plan A, Plan B, Plan C appear on the written page or pixel surface. Study and evaluate. See what works. Lots of anxiety afflicts people who sense a lack of control; seeing what you can control is a first, useful step to getting where you want to be.
4. Get social. Humans are social animals, and summers are great opportunities to meet more of us. It’s not just that social connections of dizzying variety and depth decreases heart attacks, strokes, some tumors, depression and the like. Some like to say you spend the second part of your life reconnecting with people from the first. You can meet people through the briefest adventures – going into stores you’ve passed hundreds of times, visiting a museum whose materials do not immediately appeal. You don’t have dynamite yourself out of your comfort zone. Just stroll on out. And it’s more than acceptable to get out of that comfort zone in the comfortable company of others.
5. Check out what you think is purposeful and meaningful in your life. Periodically plan to do something you deem important. We are not just regenerating bundles of biological information; we are creatures brimming with ideas. Ideas that propel us forward provide more than meaning – they can make life a lot more fun.
What to do? The world’s in a pickle so there’s plenty to do. You might want to work to save old trees or neglected animals. You might want to visit a friend stuck ill at home. You might enjoy supporting political causes you think will sustain the planet rather than obliterate it. Or you might just sit quietly with friends talking about what you and they think counts. For there are as many ways to counter stress as there are forms of stress. And many forms of stress reduction work best in concert with others.
Using your imagination to engage the physical, mental, social and spiritual ways of constraining stress can both educate and enthrall, and make the world a more appealing, enticing place.
These techniques work fine after summer, too.