Whoever lives the longest doesn’t win any prize. But preserving our health and well-being are important parts of what I call Crafting the Good Life— a life lived with love, courage, wisdom and passion. We harvest the greatest treasures of a well-lived, loved, and understood life in the last third of our journey here. To be around for the harvest, we need to know how to safeguard our health and well-being and if we’re serious about doing that—then understanding and controlling stress needs to be at the top of our “things to do” list.
Most people are hungry to connect to who they deeply are, a connection often made difficult and even impossible by our family and cultural; conditioning. Conditioning sets limits that can keep us trapped in an identity that often swims in a sea of stress hormones because it’s too small for who we truly are.
Stress related illnesses cause more deaths yearly than deaths resulting from all other causes combined. Our health care system is really a disease care system, so it doesn’t work to prevent stress related illnesses before they occur–it treats them only after they arise. Stress is a biochemical event that involves powerful hormones: cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. When our inner pharmacy releases these stress hormones into our body too often or for too long, they become toxic poisons that can compromise our health and even kill us.
The World Health Organization now recognizes stress as the number one health problem in industrialized nations. And as Dr. Paul Rosch, president of the nonprofit American Institute of Stress, noted, in America stress is “…taking a terrible toll on the nation’s health and economy. It is a heavy contributor to heart disease, cancer, respiratory distress, lupus and many other life threatening illnesses.”
Two-thirds of the visits to primary care medical physicians in this country are for symptoms resulting from stress. More than 100 million people are taking weekly medication to manage stress, medication which is for most people unnecessary and which can cause serious side effects and addiction.
What causes stress? Many things, including, real or perceived, job, family and financial pressures. Our mind and body are an interdependent unit: the mindbody. If we worry too much about financial catastrophe, for example, the primitive part of our brain can misinterpret our worry as actual financial failure and then stress hormones will be released as part of an “emergency alert” reaction.
There are two switches on our body’s involuntary nervous system: one is for ordinary housekeeping chores; the other is for emergency situations.
When one switch is on, the other is off. The ordinary housekeeping switch controls the normal processes of our body such as breathing, digestion and metabolism. The emergency switch is designed to enable us to survive in the face life threatening emergencies by triggering our body’s “stress response,” also known as the “fight or flight response.”
When the emergency switch triggers, powerful hormones flow into our body through a process set in motion by our reactive brain. Our reactive brain cues the master gland of our endocrine system that we are in danger and then another phase of the fight or flight response is set into motion.
An often overlooked, but critical, factor in understanding and controlling stress related illness is to address our perceptual tendencies to view life situations as stressful. The way we see things determines our “view.” View defines reality. If we tend to view life events as stressful, they will be. Such perceptual tendencies can result from unhealed past wounds or if we are not honoring what we truly want and love in life. Provisional solutions to stress include regular exercise, deep relaxation and meditation training, to name a few.
However, unless we deal with the real sources of stress in our life, these methods are just short-term bypasses. After 30 years of work in the best of the western and eastern well-being traditions, I created a powerful practice to, among other things, address this problem. The Good Life Process™ incorporates ancient spiritual wisdom with cutting-edge knowledge to short-circuit stress at its source.
This practice also helps create the positive conditions within the mind and body that bring deep awareness, well-being and longevity. The Good Life Process™ relieves the conditions that cause stress by returning us to our Heart—to who we deeply are.
Americans suffer from a great deal of work related stress. We work three months longer than the Germans every year and one month longer than the Japanese. And we sleep 90 minutes less a night than did our grandparents.
But it’s not just working too long that causes American work stress. For many of Americans, their work isn’t Heart based. We do what we feel that we should do or must do instead of what we want and love to do. This is a set up for stress and the health problems associated with what I call “the-not-such-a-good-life.” As Confucius told us: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” And as the Buddha added: “Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart, give yourself to it.”
The fact is that our soul, our inner life, aches at “just for money” work that lacks depth and meaning. Such work has no connection to all-important “inner spark” that can only be found within our deepest nature. Nothing but a good connection to this inner spark can set our lives on fire. We need to connect to our deepest nature, find our inner spark and set our life ablaze with what we want and love.
Nothing will prove more effective at bringing us the health and well-being needed to enjoy the richest of the Good Life’s harvests.
By Dr. Jim Manganiello