Embrace the ‘Joy of Stress’ this January

Shouldn’t January be the most productive, joyous, and stress-free time of the year?
Think about it. We hold in the palms of our hands a brand new year. And what fun it is to dream about the possibilities and pleasures ahead!
Anything could happen in 1999. Think of the gifts we might receive. The people we might meet. The accomplishments we might complete. The trips we might take. The telephone calls we might get.
What could possibly be better than a brand new year? A brand new clean slate to write on.
So then how is it that less than a month into the year so many of us feel so stressed? So out of control. With fears that we’ll never finish everything that needs doing. Or, on the other hand, worrying that we’ll never have anything important to do again.
It could be partly the long nights and the short days. We start out for our morning exercise in the dark and finish eating dinner by candlelight. Or maybe the goals we’ve set for ourselves are just too big and unreachable.
Whatever the cause, out-of-control stress seems rampant this month.
All these thoughts were muddling around in my mind when I went to the bookshelf yesterday looking for nothing in particular. What I found was “The Joy of Stress” by Dr. Peter Hanson, a medical doctor and world-famous expert on the topic of dealing with stress.
His book, written in 1985, is now an international best-seller and available in paperback.
As a stress expert, Hanson is anything but naive about the potential effects of too much stress on the body. But on the other hand, he emphasizes very strongly that the only thing worse than stress is no stress.
And one of the terrible things we do to older people is try to protect them from the stresses of daily life. The shopping and the traffic. The yards to trim and the cars to wash. The meals to make and the dishes to do.
Of course, there are times when physical limitations require such protection. But as much as physically possible, we all thrive best on a healthy dose of challenge and stress.
In primitive societies noted for longevity, older people assume their share of life’s stresses. And, says Hanson, the same trend emerges in our own society.
It’s people with high stress and challenge who live well to advanced years. Symphony conductors, business entrepreneurs, political leaders, successful artists–people who don’t even know what the term “golden years” means.
One of Dr. Hanson’s admirers is Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to climb Mount Everest. Hillary calls Hanson’s approach to stress “refreshing, positive, and practical.”
And writes Hillary in his foreword to the book, “I was relieved to find that my involvement in stress has probably been to my medical benefit.”
So there you have it! This side of 60, you can choose to sidestep the stress and responsibility of life if you like but you probably won’t live longer or be happier.
On the other hand, you can jump into the fray and assume your share of danger, challenge, and stress. Find the jobs that need doing and accept the responsibility for doing them.
For the only way to find the joy of living is to first embrace the joy of stress.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist.

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