The other morning I was besieged with three calls for help, all before 8 a.m. The issues were varied: One was dealing with a major transition; the other a health crisis; and the third felt deep regret over a decision recently made.
All three were in one form or crisis or another, at varying stages in their lives.
Crisis picks no age. We go through it for reasons often beyond our grasp. There is the quarter-life crisis, the midlife crisis and every other imaginable crisis that you can think of in between.
Seniors go through a lot of crisis, too. No one is immune.
In a time of crisis, I have learned to make prayer my default. Well, okay, there’s still a bit of thrashing and threshing that goes on, but no longer as much as when I was in my 30s or 40s.
At 50, prayer has become the magic bullet. Prayer is so important because it’s what helps us discern and keeps us afloat. We do everything that we can, but surrender everything in His care when we can’t.
The stress happens when we insist on our way, on our timetable. “Sige na, Lord, I want it now,” when what is often required is that we be still in the moment and trust that we are where we are supposed to be.
Personally, I like to imagine God saying, “Wait, I have something for you to learn here. Be still. I’ve got this.”
Time and again I have found that it’s in the release where we find “the peace that passes all understanding.” It’s also called His amazing grace, and it never, ever fails to see us through.
Then, of course, there are practical steps that one can take to manage the stress of the moment. Rebecca Knight recently wrote an excellent piece in Harvard Business Review (HBR) titled “How to Handle Stress in the Moment,” in which she quotes Maria Gonzales, author of “Mindful Leadership”: “If there is a hardship at home, you bring that to the office and it gets layered with your professional stress and—if you’re not careful—it can spiral out of control.”
How well you react to and manage daily stressors “impacts your relationships with other people, with yourself, and how others perceive you,” she says.
Gonzales cites several practical strategies for handling stress. First, she says, you need to identify your stress signals. For some people it can be a bad stomach, for others it can be a migraine, or rapid breathing. For people who have desk jobs or write a lot, the stress can manifest in backaches or, in my case, around my shoulders. The key thing is to be mindful of the signals and to take action before they escalate.
Next, the key is not to think of it as stress. The article quotes Justin Menkes, author of “Better Under Pressure”: “Most often the reason your blood pressure rises at work is because you’re being asked to do something important” by your boss or a colleague and you want to succeed, says Menkes. “The stress symptoms are telling you: This matters.”
Shift your thinking about the task causing you distress, and instead try to view it as “an opportunity to move forward that you want to take seriously,” he adds. The goal is to “use that adrenaline pop” to focus your nervous energy, “heighten your attention, and really apply yourself.” In other words, change your paradigm and the way your body reacts will likewise adjust.
The next strategy is a personal favorite: “Talk yourself down.” I’ve often noticed that it’s when I beat myself up, or am too harsh or hard on myself, that the stress gets worse.
On the contrary, when I talk to myself kindly (yes, talking to oneself, not loudly though, helps ease the stress), that’s when the stress dissipates. Talk to yourself as you would to a beloved child, and notice the difference right away.
Fourth, the article suggests that one enlist a friendly ear. It’s tough to go through certain things alone. At the end of a recent trip, I was terribly exhausted from a storm that had caused major delays at the Logan airport in Boston, which made me miss my connecting flight.
Just before the flight, I could feel myself stressing out about getting on the plane. Thankfully, my travel buddy Tessa talked me through it; by the time I got into my seat, I started dozing off.
Menkes says, “Select this person carefully: You want it to be somebody with whom you have a mutual connection and who, when you share your vulnerabilities, will respond in a thoughtful manner.”
Stress is contagious, and the article suggests that one “project an aura of calm.”
“When someone palpably feels your tension, they react to it,” says Menkes. He suggests “trying to modulate your emotions” when you find yourself in a tense conversation.
You can also ask for a break, take a few deep breaths, and then resume the conversation. What I normally do is step out for a moment (not walk out) and walk around my building or around the block. After having expended some of that nervous energy, I’m much calmer, my head is clearer.
“Keep calm and walk on” has been my personal mantra. But as I have grown older, with prayer as my default, I often find that it never fails to pray your stress away.