Optimize Your Health: A Practical Action Plan
The widespread belief about jobs having harmful stress is an artificial “consensus reality.” Articles, books and workshops about stress, while well-intentioned, sustain an illusion that something called “stress” is constantly assaulting and harming us. What most people call stress is really an internal, physical feeling of anxiety or strain that they don’t like. This is not just semantics. Stress is the external pressure, strain is the internal effect.
Make a list of six or seven things that you feel irritated, upset or distressed about. Ask and answer questions such as:
• What pressures am I feeling?
• How is my work and my life different than it was a year ago?
• What is difficult for me now and what difficulties am I expecting?
• What feels distressing to me?
Take your time and be thorough. Write descriptive phrases.The next step is to talk or write about how you feel about the items you listed. During difficult times, an important resiliency step is being able to express your feelings in healthy ways. You can’t make feelings go
away, but you can move through them.
Now list your positive experiences. List activities that revitalize and invigorate you. Ask yourself these questions:
• What do I have fun doing? What do I get enthusiastic about?
• What would I like to do that I keep putting off?
• Who do I enjoy sharing good experiences with?
• When do I sleep best at night?
• What positive aspects of my life am I ignoring?
After you’ve made your lists about what drains you and what revitalizes you, you are at a choice point. Are you going to take action or not take action to reduce your distressing, energy-draining experiences and increase pleasant, revitalizing experiences?
In the 1970s, some psychologists began to study the connection between internal, locus of control attitudes and fewer stress-related health problems. In 1975, University of Chicago Professor Salvatore Maddi began a 12-year study of 450 managers and executives at Illinois
Bell Telephone, a subsidiary of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T).
The researchers found that the hardy executives and managers had three qualities:
• They made an emotional commitment to do their best to successfully handle the ongoing events and to help others.
• They believed they could influence the outcomes and actively worked to reach specific goals. This gave them a feeling of being in control of their job assignments and their part of the action.
• They felt energized and challenged to solve the problems and cope effectively with every difficulty.
Look at your list of negative experiences. Pick one item and create an action plan to feel less vulnerable and more in control. Ask yourself: If I can’t avoid it, change it or make it go away, what if I changed my response to it? What if I decided to stop letting it bother me? You feel strained only by what you emotionally and physically attempt to deal with. Disengaging yourself from some things around you conserves your resiliency energy for more important challenges.
Everything you think and feel has an effect on your physical health; the quality of your interactions with others has an effect on your physical health. You recover better when you tell your family, a friend or a support group what you are feeling. If you feel overwhelmed
and lack energy for handling the pressures, consider seeking professional help. Take this suggestion seriously. Anyone who tries to act as though he or she never feels upset or distressed is more fragile than people who admit they need counseling.
Notice that the Optimal Health Plan does not say to avoid pressure or strain. Without periods of strain we lose strength and deteriorate. An optimal plan has you alternating the strains of intense work with periods of detachment, rest and relaxation