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Stress and peace of mind

For me, the ultimate aim in life is peace of mind. No matter how much we achieve in our lives, or how financially comfortable we become through our efforts, we will not be happy if in the process we suffer a constant excess of stress.

I say ‘excess of stress’ because a little stress is actually necessary to make us do things. The way I see it, ‘good stress’ equates to a stimulating challenge. But if the level of stress makes us unhappy and has a negative effect on our mental and physical wellbeing, that’s bad stress.

Even if we only think about its effect on the body, excess stress is definitely something to be avoided. Headaches, digestive disorders, high blood pressure, heart problems and strokes are just some of the illnesses that stress can cause or aggravate.

So where does all this stress come from and how can we avoid it? If my own experience is anything to go by, stress is something that creeps up slowly, unnoticed at first. By the time you feel you have a problem, and can identify the causes, you may find that quite big changes to your life – or your approach to life – will be needed to remove it.

I can’t recall being greatly stressed as a child. I think I started worrying about life’s challenges, and working too hard to meet them, when I drew close to my final exams at university. After that, I found that a career was not as easy to come by as I had expected. A succession of career challenges followed. In each case I felt that if I worked hard to overcome it I would be able to slow down later…

What we have to do to gain educational qualifications and make a living can be some of the biggest sources of stress. Next we have to obtain, maintain and pay for a home, raise children and meet all of their needs. And when the children have grown up and left home they still need our help. There is no end to the sources of stress.

Stressful living becomes a habit that’s very hard to break. Every day we run around trying to do as much as we can in the limited time available.

To break that habit, we need to take a good look at what’s going on in our lives and make some changes. If we have no spare time, we are doing too much – so we have to stop doing something. To help decide what things to stop doing, we should think about the relative importance of the various activities filling our lives. We should cut out the ones that are least important and prioritise those which really matter or which contribute to our health and happiness.

In addition to avoiding overloading, I can recommend a number of ways to reduce the effects of stress. Taking breaks from work is vital. My work allows me to take a short nap each day, although I know some people would have trouble sleeping at night if they did that.

Massage, meditation and various relaxation techniques are helpful and enjoyable. I find that laughter is a good cure, so I will tend to watch a funny film rather than an exciting one if I’m looking for stress relief. But anything artistic and engrossing, such as reading fiction or listening to music, can give me a break from whatever is causing me stress. I find vigorous exercise very therapeutic too.

Beware though: unless you first take care of the overloading, you might find that trying to squeeze these stress relievers into your life can cause further stress!