Change is very stressful. Anymore, ordinary life is stressful. Trying to make changes in your life initially adds even more stress. It is true that later when the changes have been made the level of stress will drop some as you begin to realize the fruits of the changes you’ve made. And, of course, the sources and kinds of stress we experience are always shifting. Come to think of it, the only time our stress levels drop completely is when we assume room temperature. To be alive is to be stressed in some way or another.
Which is why it is so important to remember to breathe, to stop and take a long, deep breath. The rhythm of life is one of stress and relief. We breathe in and breathe out. Waking and sleeping. Even the cycles of the seasons include awakening, growth, productivity and rest.
In Western culture we have come to believe in an ever upward, ever productive, ever inhaling kind of life. This is unsustainable. It is fallacy to believe that life is always linear, never taking a step back. It is essential to healthy living to allow for rest and reflection.
I recently experienced this in my own life. Beginning at the first of the year, my wife and I set some financial goals and chose to cut our budget to the bone to accomplish them. It was a strict discipline undertaken out of a conscious choice to live our lives a certain way. Two weeks ago we met our goal and I experienced the breathing out. I was more tired than I realized. The mental discipline was relaxed and I needed rest. So, I allowed myself a power nap each day, went to bed a bit earlier than usual, indulged in some old favorite videos, took slow walks around our property and let a pressing task or two languish for a few days to accommodate time to refresh. Even during the season of discipline I tried to take some time each day to close my eyes and breathe deep and I made certain to get adequate sleep.
Today I am back at it. I’m enjoying the satisfaction of having met our goals and feel like tackling the world again. My “to do” list is back at my side and I am eager to be productive.
It comes down to whether I am directing my life or is my life careening out of control. The way to get back in control is to throw out an anchor and slow things down in as many small ways as you can until your sanity returns and you have a sense of things becoming manageable. The best anchor to utilize is that all important word, “No.”
We first learn to say “No” to ourselves then to others around us. No, I don’t have to meet the expectations of every person in my life. No, I don’t have to be the perfect husband, wife, son, daughter, employee, etc. No, I don’t have to have the newest, best, fastest gizmo or widget that keeps me perpetually in debt and driven to work overtime and extra jobs. No, I can’t make everyone like me no matter how much I do or how hard I work. No, no, no.
And why? So I can say “Yes!” to the people who matter most to me and “Yes!” to the activities and things I chose to value. Ironically, our “No” is what makes our “Yes” possible. To exercise our “Yes” we must first find our “No” and embrace it thereby making space in our life to breathe.