Are you busy all the time? Are you stressed out? What does stress feel like to you? What effects does stress have on your body, your mind, and your health? I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot, as I am preparing a talk on the topic for the Tucson Cancer Conquerors’ Soul, Strength, and Spirit day, which is coming up soon! I’m very excited to be a part of this program, btw.
Sadly, stress seems to have become an integral part of our lives and our culture. Some years ago, the WHO (World Health Organization) declared stress the health epidemic of the 21st century (of course that was before Covid). But this just underscores the seriousness of this problem. Stress isn’t just some minor annoyance. It is a serious problem, with real consequences for the health of our bodies and minds (tons more on that in the talk). And while stress affects everyone in our culture, having cancer and dealing with treatment, follow up, fear of recurrence, and treatment side effects can just raise the stress game to a whole new level. I’m not going to get into all the details here today, but I do want to address one aspect of this epidemic of stress, also sometimes referred to as the epidemic of busyness. And that is that we DO have some control over how stressed we allow ourselves to become. And by default, then, the power is ours to change that if we want to.
You know how much I love Eckhart Tolle, who said “It is possible to be busy without stress. If you find it is not possible for you, it is better to be not busy at all”. There are a few important points wrapped up in this quote. First, it may seem hard to believe that we could possibly be as busy as we are without being stressed. They just go hand in hand, right? Maybe not. We all know people who seem to do 1,000,000 things, do them all effectively and effortlessly, and never seem flustered or overwhelmed. So some people can do it. What do those people have, because I want some?!
Second, Tolle points out that there are many of us who may not be able to continue to be that busy without tipping our delicate balance over into the “stressed” zone. No shame in that. There are probable many more of us in this category than in the first one. But we must learn to see it, to feel it, to be honest with ourselves, and admit it. It is only then that we can begin to do anything about it. If we just keep running mindlessly through our lives, busy and overwhelmed, stressed to our breaking points, and refusing to admit that there is anything wrong, we cannot get better. So as always, self-awareness is so key.
And his final point is that we can choose not to be so busy. Just because everybody else is doing it, and it has become almost a badge of honor in our society to say “Oh, I’m sooooo busy” whenever someone asks how you are doing, doesn’t mean that you should strive for that. Maybe we don’t need to take that second job (if we cut our expenses, could we do without it?), or all that overtime, or to be on so many committees, or take on that volunteer work, or so many social engagements, or spend so much time scrolling facebook. Maybe we need more quiet time, sipping coffee or reading a book. Just looking out the window, strolling around our gardens, and just BE-ing. There is a funny meme that says something like “she was just sitting there, doing nothing, just breathing and relaxing, like a total psycho”. But I believe that our bodies and our minds really need that kind of time to decompress, to heal, to balance. When was the last time you just sat around, enjoying yourself, and didn’t let yourself feel bad that you weren’t “accomplishing” anything?
So busyness and stress are big problems. What can we do about it? First, we have to really tune into ourselves and understand how we, individually, are doing. This is svadhyaya, or self-study, in yoga philosophy. Are we truly handling our level of busyness with ease, and thriving? Or are we secretly suffering, stressed, depressed, anxious, or even with physical problems like irritable bowel syndrome, that might be exacerbated by our stress? Be honest. I used to be super tough, and truly believed I was doing just fine, in spite of my busy lifestyle. I wasn’t. And it isn’t easy to admit, but we have to face it if we want to make any positive change. Pretending to be fine, while the dangerous effects of stress are smoldering in your body is no good place to be.
I’ll talk more about the next steps in a future post and in lots more detail in our session at TCC October 2! For those of you who are TCC members, see you soon!