Some months ago, following a keynote address I had given, a middle-aged lady approached me and asked if she could speak with me for a few minutes. I told her I’d be more than happy to speak with her, whereupon she began to share with me the difficulty she was experiencing in trying to cope with stress.
Her demeanor was hyper — talking very fast, highly animated, and tending to offer answers to her own questions. We spoke for about ten minutes, and during that short time span her cell phone not only rang three times, but with each ring she interrupted our discussion to answer it. While I was taken aback by her cell phone compulsion, I didn’t take it personally. I felt pretty certain it was a way of life for her.
The woman explained that she was a single mother with two children, and though she had a full-time job, she was having a very difficult time making ends meet. Welcome to the fundamentally transformed America of 2016!
In a frustrated tone, she told me that her apartment was always a mess, because between her job obligations, commuting back and forth to work, grocery shopping, cooking, endlessly chauffeuring her kids, and more, she didn’t have time to straighten it out let alone clean it. She was talking at such a rapid pace that it appeared she was afraid she would not get in everything she wanted to say.
Obviously, I wasn’t able to give this woman much concrete advice in just ten minutes, but I did emphasize one important point to her. I told her that in relating her situation to me, she could have been describing any one of millions of women who find themselves in pretty much the same circumstances day in and day out.
Or, for that matter, men. Most men are overloaded with work and obligations that often push them to the brink. The majority of men I talk to are stressed and frustrated by a lack of that ever-dwindling commodity known as time.
Since my brief chat with that frazzled woman, I’ve given a lot of thought to the widespread problem of stress. It’s a menace that knows no racial, ethnic, religious, or gender boundaries. Clearly, it is endemic in modern Western culture.
However, I’ve come to the conclusion that children, job, lack of time, and other time-draining issues that most of us have to deal with are not the underlying causes of stress. Rather, I am convinced that stress is a self-imposed mental state.
Stress is the antithesis of serenity, peace of mind, and tranquility. Which is why an important factor in reducing stress is to strive for peace of mind. You cannot simultaneously experience tranquility and stress.
So, how do you capture that elusive mental state known as peace of mind? A good place to start is to recognize that true peace of mind does not shift with changing circumstances. If you have peace of mind, you can handle both adversity and good fortune with calm confidence.
In other words, true peace of mind gives you the strength to stay on course in the face of adversity. What I’m saying here is that you live within your mind. It is not events that shape your world. It’s your thought processes.
To paraphrase something Dale Carnegie said more than fifty years ago, as you and I pass through the decades of life, sadness and misfortune will cross our paths. This is a truism that would be difficult to dispute.
Fear, loneliness, rejection, illness, the death of a friend or family member, financial failure, and loss of love are just a handful of examples of the kinds of sadness and misfortunes we all have to deal with from time to time. Where we differ is how each of us handles such traumas. This, in turn, goes a long way toward determining whether our lives will be tranquil or stressful.
In Part II of this article, I’ll be discussing the importance of “living right” as a key factor in reducing the amount of stress in your life.