Could this be the best way to reduce stress?

While watching the Red Sox get shellacked by the Seattle Mariners on Opening Day, I grew so stressed that I decided to hit pause, record the rest of the game and turn my attention to something, anything else on TV.

Appropriately enough, the documentary One Nation Under Stress was on HBO. My first inclination was to take a hard pass. The title itself sounded stressful. Upon second thought, I decided I would watch for a few minutes and an hour later was glad I did.

The film chronicles Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s attempt to understand why life expectancy for Americans had declined three years running.  His conclusion was this was “driven primarily by an epidemic of self-inflicted deaths of despair — from drug overdose, chronic liver disease and suicide – this rise in the U.S. mortality rate can be seen as a symptom of the toxic, pervasive stress in America today.”

While he covered a lot of territory regarding the systemic causes of stress in our lives and what makes it particularly corrosive (the lack control, predictability and social support), less attention was focused on how we as individuals contribute to the stress of others. 

With that thought consider these three questions:

What are you doing to control the stress you give others?
We bring our own stress into otherwise calm situations, we move things off our plate by shoving them on others, and we often take out our stress on strangers (traffic anyone?)  What if you saw it as your role (as co-worker, family member, citizen) to stop adding stress to people’s lives?  Would you treat people better at work, not use social media to “get something off your chest”, maybe stop before hitting send on that snarky email or flip off the person who cuts you off in traffic?

When are people around you feeling the most stress?
We know certain stressful life events are unpredictable (loss of job, divorce, death, illness, moving). But other chronic stressors can be anticipated.  We know there are times of day (mornings), days of the week (Tuesday), and months of the year (March) that are just more stressful. We also can imagine that there are certain regular events in our lives that bring stress (like the end of the month when we pay our bills). When are you or others around you feeling the heat?  If you can see stress coming, perhaps we can be especially kinder to others (and ourselves) then.

How are you supporting people around you who are feeling stressed?
Study after study shows that tight knit communities experience less stress related health issues. What are you doing each day to support others around you who might be experiencing stress? Are you checking in with friends to see how they’re doing (liking their post on Facebook doesn’t count)? Do you look for signs in your family that there may be issues under the surface that they could use some help with? Imagine if you could just carve out an hour a day to intentionally look to relieve the stress of others?  Odds are they and you would feel less of it.  

Stress is real and dangerous. For some it is more so than others. As noted in the documentary there are fundamental shifts in our economy and society that have systemically added stress to an untold number of lives. 

Yet systems are created and run by people. I know in my own life, I have caused unnecessary stress on the lives of others. But it also stands to reason that if we are the cause of stress in each other’s lives, we can also be the ones who can take it away.

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