To be or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and, by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub…
Hamlet III, f., l.56
I’m in a holding pattern. My flight has reached its destination, however, the pilot is unable to land. The fasten seatbelt sign is lit, I am strapped in. Impatience clouds my senses, overwhelming me. I want to get off and move on…I-AM-STRESSED beyond belief. This delay is…unacceptable,…undesirable…inconvenient…I initially wrote a freelance piece on the subject of stress circa 2002 for publication in an online journal for women. I revisited it in 2012 and here I am again – standing on the same porch, ringing the same bell…
Adulthood is stressful. there’s no question about it. As a teenager I yearned for it, convinced it had to be special. I reached this conclusion based on my late parents’ frequent refrain, “When you’re grown – and on your own – you can do as you please.” As a naïve youngster I saw adulthood as the ultimate symbol of freedom. It was the place to be, the state of being to aspire to. I had no appreciation of – or frame of reference with which to analyze the subject. The whole notion of independence – of being able to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted – had tremendous appeal for me. I simply could not wait. I fully intended to live my adult life significantly differently from the model posed by Daddy and Mama. Perhaps I thought I could improve on what they’d accomplished up to that particular point in my life.
Having reached my full majority, and then some, via a tumultuous route I might add, I am now seriously reconsidering this state of being – this place I once so ardently desired. It hasn’t always been what I wished for or expected. Why? Because I find stress is the single most dominant factor in my life. It is a fact of life s certain as flatulence, arthritic joints, receding hairlines, and the affliction of gravity on a body that once was so much tighter, limber, and lighter. Lest I be misunderstood, allow me to elaborate.
For years I didn’t know I was stressed. My life was moving forward at a manageable clip. I took the hills and valleys in stride. One day, however, I looked up and discovered stress was all around me. It was on my job, in my home, and affected various relationships. I couldn’t escape it! The truly sad part is understanding how I came to this realization. I was blissfully ignorant of the true origins of my occasional bad hair days – back when I had hair. I didn’t appreciate what it really meant to wake up on the wrong side of the bed until I was duly informed: my very existence is punctuated by stress. I was exposed to the psychology of this concept to assist me in the process of differentiating. I was introduced to eustress, or good stress and distress, or the undesirable stuff and I haven’t been the same since. Now fully caught up in the phenomenon, I have taken more seminars, read more books, and engaged in more activities intended to teach me how to relieve stress-related maladies than I can recount. As my body transitions from one stage of womanhood to another, learning to live gracefully in spite of the stresses I encounter, sometimes daily, I choose to concentrate on eustress. My desire is to accentuate the beauty of a balanced, meaningful, and centered life. At times this effort is truly daunting, and…stressful.
How, then, does one lead a substantive life, overflowing with eustress while minimizing distress? By not letting the little things get under our skin. For so many, it’s the little things in life which matter – sometimes more than they should. What a marvelous phrase, this one: it’s the little things in life that count. It’s a cleverly contrived cliché which resonates with clarity yet doesn’t say much of anything – grammatically speaking, anyway. Philosophically the little things in life are implicit in everything most of us are about. These seemingly unimportant, undefined items can lift our spirits or cut us down to size. They can crush us and the big stuff just finishes the job. The little things in life stress us out. But is it eustress or distress?
What are these little things? Essentially they comprise an unarticulated litany expectations each of us grapples with daily: the desire for common courtesy, words of encouragement, a hug instead of a handshake, verbal expressions of affection, acceptance, goodwill, and genuineness in time of need, We crave compliments. We’d love to have the undivided attention of whomever it is we’re dealing with at the time. We need a gentle touch or an inviting smile. We fondly remember random acts of kindness and support from unexpected sources. These gifts are the stuff of life and we want them. It’s their absence we find distressing.
Beyond a list of wants, needs, and desires we must also confront the self-inflicted wounds. Learning to let go of things we can’t change and allowing ourselves the luxury of acceptance can be painful. We tend to put matters into perspective only to snatch them back because worrying provides the perfect excuse to keep searching…for whatever is important at the moment. Either we have too much to do, or not enough. We pontificate – loudly – we’re too blessed to be stressed without understanding the egregious contradiction of our proclamation.
Stressed: to be or not to be? Is this the question? Or is it all a matter of perception? Can we – should we – sweat the small stuff? The answer is personal. If stress is part of our existence, then learning to handle it does indeed allow for balance in our lives. There will always be obstacles to overcome, difficult decisions to make, time for reflection, and introspection, if we’re so inclined. The awe-inspiring experiences won’t last long enough and at times trouble will be a lingering visitor whose departure can’t come soon enough. Stress in its various iterations is the thread which holds together the fabric of our lives. It’s the common denominator, the quotient, and the dividend. Stressed: to be or not to be: This is definitely the question.
Copyright November 2015 by Theresa W. Bennett-Wilkes. All rights reserved.