Category Archives: stress

On a Beach Far Far Away

 
 
My first experience with a “retreat” was as a child. And for me, it wasn’t so wonderful, and certainly not restful. It was some sort of Christian boy’s camp held at a ranch. It was called Green Acres or Green Oaks or something like that. I was put on a bus with a bunch of kids I didn’t know and told to sit down and be quiet “or else” by the guy in charge. Nice.
 
The highlights of that long weekend that I can remember were the ability to buy candy at the camp store if your parents had thought to give you some pocket money, and riding a mule that stopped every few feet to relieve itself.
 
My idea of a retreat today is somewhat different than my early experience. 
 
There are many kinds of retreats – personal development retreats, educational retreats, spiritual retreats, and just-leave-me-alone-so-I-won’t-go-nuts retreats. Some professions (like raising children) are probably most subject to the last one. I think I’ll call it an emergency retreat. It becomes necessary when the stressors of life overwhelm us. Although I have heard that you can “have a retreat in your own home”, somehow I think the vast majority of us can’t detach enough in our own environments in order to accomplish that. There are simply too many things calling out for attention.
 
God’s plan for us is to have times of rest. If you are a motivated leader in any capacity, rest may feel like a low priority and an unneeded interruption in a busy life. But those who do not build rest into their lives may find unscheduled “retreats” in the form of doctor or hospital visits. Pastors, counselors, business leaders and medical professionals often fall into this category. But it is not just leaders that need to detach. Employees who work in high stress environments are subject to burnout and overload as well. Taking a couple of mental health days is better than a week of sick days.
 
Most people will have to have a planned retreat built into their lives. So often a vacation is not a restful retreat, especially if it involves children. A retreat should be free from daily responsibilities, and where kids are involved that is simply not possible. Also, many people make vacations heavy on activities – and that’s not the purpose of a retreat.
 
On retreats I want to have space to think, to dream, and to recreate without pressure to perform. I also want to be able to spend time with positive sensory input, in other words, just feeling stuff. I like long stretches of uninterrupted “being”, and not doing. I often wrestle with a feeling of anxiety for not accomplishing anything concrete. But then I remind myself that that is precisely the point. I am dealing with the intangibles of life that nourish the soul, like spending time with just me and God. All good retreats offered by churches and other organizations include a heavy dose of this separate time, away from the planned events and connect time.
 
Recently I posted a question on Facebook asking where you would most like to spend time in retreat: desert, mountain or beach. I would like to ask it here as well. Use the comment box below to describe your favorite formal or informal retreat setting.        
 

Stress and Anxiety

 
I tend to write fairly often about the subjects of stress and anxiety. Why? Statistics show that about 40 million people or 18% of the adult population of the USare affected by this disorder each year.  That would make it the #1 issue facing the mental health community.  
 
How is stress different from anxiety?
 
Stress is your response to a change in your environment, be it positive or negative. Anxiety is an emotion that’s characterized by a feeling of apprehension, nervousness, or fear.  Acute anxiety is temporary, like a roller coaster ride, and can be positive, whereas chronic anxiety is pervasive and long term and likely to cause very negative results.
 
Chronic stress is long-term stress, such as that caused by traumatic events or miserable living conditions. Untreated chronic stress can contribute to major depressive disorder, a form of intense depression that lasts for long periods and can prevent someone from living a normal life. Chronic stress also can contribute to physical illnesses, including high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and obesity.
 
Money, work, and the economy continues to be the most cited (75%) causes of stress for Americans.
 
I see stress separate from distress. Whenever I visit a brand new place, particularly when it is very unfamiliar, I tend to feel stress. But I am not distressed, just excited. Distress comes when I cannot maintain a degree of control in the new environment.
 
Here are some truths about stress and some myth-busters. 
 
  • Stress does not cause your hair to turn grey.
  • Cuddling your pet, significant other, child or listening to music lowers your stress. 
  • Stress does not cause ulcers, it just makes them worse. 
  • There is no link between stress and infertility. 
  • According to the American Cancer Society, no definite link between stress and cancer has been found. 
  • Stress can cause erectile dysfunction and loss of libido. 
  • Women are twice as likely as men to be affected by generalized anxiety disorder. 
  • Daily exercise greatly helps to reduce the effects of stress. 
  • Anger or hostility releases stress hormones into the blood and can cause heart problems. 
  • Smoking cigarettes does not reduce stress. 
Focusing on the positive (gratitude), speaking soothing words to yourself, praying and practicing deep breathing can be very helpful. The combination of medications and psychotherapy is highly effective with anxiety issues. 70-90% of people experience an improvement.
 
Learn to set realistic goals for yourself at home and at work, and have good boundaries with people. If it is hard for you to say “no”, then you need to enlist some help. Prepare for change as far in advance as you can, and lower your expectations. You will likely lead a much calmer life.

Perfectionism

 

Perfectionism is a tough task master – always looking over your shoulder to see how you are doing, and always driving you to do better, work harder, and never really being completely satisfied with your performance.
 
Do you think trying to achieve perfection is a good goal?
 
It is amazing how much effort we can expend trying to get from “excellent” to “near perfect”. It’s exhausting! It can strip even fun things of all the potential joy and replace it with stress and pain.
 
Do you even have room in your thinking for the concept of “good enough”? Or for you does “good enough” sound like another way to say “failure”? If so, where did you get that message? Was it a parent or teacher or is it self-imposed?
 
It is true that there are some folks whose “good enough” – isn’t. Excellence isn’t a goal for them, or even adequacy. But my guess is that they wouldn’t be reading this post. They wouldn’t be attracted to the title.
 
Of course, no one can be perfect. So in their quest for perfection, perfectionists place their health in peril through stress and anxiety–and they can make other people’s lives miserable. Working for a perfectionist boss is really tough since he or she will have unrealistic and unreasonable expectations of employees. Some physicians think perfectionism is a medical condition that should be categorized as a behavioral problem or psychiatric disorder. …extreme forms of perfectionism should be considered an illness similar to narcissism, obsessive compulsiveness, dependent-personality disorder, and other personality disorders because of its links to distress and dysfunction,
 
If you are not sure if you are a perfectionist, read the list below and see how many of the signs you can identify with.  
 
Ten Top Signs Your a Perfectionist
1. You can’t stop thinking about a mistake you made.
2. You are intensely competitive and can’t stand doing worse than others.
3. You either want to do something “just right” or not at all.
4. You demand perfection from other people.
5. You won’t ask for help if asking can be perceived as a flaw or weakness.
6. You will persist at a task long after other people have quit.
7. You are a faultfinder who must correct other people when they are wrong.
8. You are highly aware of other people’s demands and expectations.
9. You are very self-conscious about making mistakes in front of other people.
10. You noticed the error in the title of this list.
Source: The BBC News Online
 
A scary warning for perfectionists: The impossible quest for perfection has been linked to a host of emotional, physical, and relationship problems, including depression, eating disorders, marital discord and even suicide.