The principle of getting good stress is true, I think, in all the different arenas of life. If you understand these key areas you can at least get started in pursuing healthy degrees of challenge in your life to keep you sharp and strong.
This is something right at your fingertips. Even if it’s just doing daily push-ups when you wake up or in the evening. Ideally, it’s more than that. Some regular, sweat-inducing cardio, a fun sports game a couple times a week, a challenging resistance training routine. I’m hoping to learn some kind of fighting soon, which might take out an evening or weekend afternoon every week.
The number one excuse for not exercising is time. But again, even something small like a 20-minute run can give huge physical benefits! Kinesiology was my field of study in University, and a major take-away from several classes looking at physical activity research was that exercise is essentially a miracle drug. It fights depression, stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, and has innumerable other benefits.
So do yourself a favour and commit to getting some exercise.
Whether it’s reading a book, watching educational videos, writing, or even browsing Wikipedia articles that you find interesting, you need to find ways to sharpen your mind. Learning – and being challenged in what you think you already know – should be a norm for everyone, since the brain is much like any muscle and will atrophy if it is not challenged with healthy, regular use.
I encourage you to interact with content that you disagree with. Try and understand it, pick it apart, and explain to yourself verbally or in written form why you disagree. I find listening to both sides of any argument quite invigorating – even purpose-giving. It keeps you on your toes and you’re less likely to get stuck in your own ways and ideas, if you’re doing it right.
I’ll never forget when I once wrestled with the theology of the Protestant Reformers (Martin Luther and John Calvin, among others). Some of it I hated so much that I found myself questioning whether I even wanted to continue being a Christian! But after 8 months thinking and hearing different perspectives I embraced the doctrines I was once so scared of. That journey changed how I see the world, and I’m immensely thankful for it. Such intellectual journeys are not only fun but life-enriching, and we all owe it to ourselves to keep learning and seeking truth.
The internet age has given us artificial relationships while making us think we have real ones. We think we’re more connected than ever, but we’re not. Any wonder so many of us feel isolated and deal with resulting anxiety or depression? It’s time to put our skin in the game, take some risks, and build authentic relationships.
If you’re in a stage of anxiety or other mental illness right now, this kind of exercise will be especially hard. But like any “good stress”, the risk is necessary for the reward. And for some, the reward is finally coming to a place of security and mental health.
Start with friends or co-workers you have around. Think of a few questions you could ask them; make some conversation. Try to develop a curious mind, and questions will eventually just start to come (Dale Carnegie insists that a genuine interest is one of the chief ways of making real friends!).
Like any good stress, expect difficulties and even setbacks. Disagreements or conflicts in general are normal in any real relationships, so learn how to deal with them honestly and humbly. Try and see them as an opportunity for growth and greater connection rather than something negative.
Most people in our western culture grow up not learning how to process emotions properly. As a result, when we get older, we just don’t know how to deal with them. We suppress, avoid, or just get frustrated because we don’t know what to do with our feelings.
I say this as a man who grew up in a home where you didn’t talk about emotions, and in a culture that doesn’t allow men that freedom. In an unfortunate twist of irony, my emotions often end up getting the best of me and leading to a deep seeded anger.
It’s a real challenge (a good stress), but we need to build emotional connections with people, learn to express and process our emotions appropriately, and accept them as they ebb and flow. As we do, we actually come to a point of greater emotional stability – that is, our emotions become helpful rather than controlling or crippling.
Bonus Round: Practicing Thankfulness
In our privileged culture, the #firstworldproblems thing is no joke. We are so entitled that we are incredibly ungrateful even when we have amazing lives.
Time to fight this indwelling evil. Fight it with the only true antidote: thankfulness. Think of things you have every reason to be thankful for. And be honest – if you’re not satisfied completely with something, ask yourself why? Consider that perhaps the problem is not the thing itself but you and your perspective. I find that when I really think about it, usually my biggest complaints in life aren’t that warranted. And when I stop with the complaining attitude, the relationship or work-related thing often improves as my attitude changes.
We’ll explore these areas some more soon. For now, be challenged and (appropriately) stressed!