Stress, whatever the source, is a constant in life. In my experience, we are subject to a kind of conservation law of stress, with the total remaining constant over time. If stress recedes in one area, it seems to increase in another. If all is going smoothly at home and at work, you have no overwhelming financial worries and your physical health is good, you’re likely to find stress elsewhere. The world is the world, both beautiful and ugly, comforting and scary. We can’t change much of it, but we can work on our attitude toward it.
Stress provoked by the sad state of the world can damage your body as well as make you angry and depressed. One of my recommendations to address this form of stress is to take frequent “news fasts” – that is, don’t let news into your consciousness for a day at a time. This reinforces the idea that you, not the media, control your attention. It is also very useful to learn and practice relaxation methods to neutralize the effects of stress.
You can activate the relaxation response in many ways: by working with your breath, practicing yoga, taking biofeedback training, floating in water, or stroking a cat or dog that you love. You have to experiment to find what works for you, and then practice regularly throughout the day.
Many people use vigorous workouts as a way to defuse anger, reduce aggression, and improve their moods. If that helps, fine, but exercise can also foster competitiveness and responses more associated with our flight-or-fight reaction to danger than with relaxation. Instead, try my relaxing breath, which can yield such physiological benefits as lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased circulation to the extremities and improved digestion, and can also help you gain better control over your emotions.
I have practiced meditation for many years and believe that it has helped me control mood swings and buffered me from depression in addition to neutralizing effects of stress. Another technique I like is visualization, an extension of daydreaming and fantasy.
And remember the words of the serenity prayer: you want the serenity to accept those things you cannot change, courage to change those things you can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Andrew Weil, M.D.