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Life is not an emergency
— Ram Dass
Stress is an increasingly common condition which seems to go hand-in-hand with the modern lifestyle. Many of us have forgotten how to relax, as we race from one task to another, driven by unreasonable deadlines or a fear of being 'left behind' in an increasingly technological world. There is nothing wrong with rising to the challenge or working hard to achieve a cherished goal, but the problem comes when we are constantly in a state of tension, unable to 'switch off'. When stressed, the whole physical, mental and emotional system is under constant 'red-alert', and over time this can cause chronic worry, anxiety, exhaustion, headaches, and can even lead to life-threatening illnesses such as strokes or heart attacks.
At first, we may actively enjoy the 'buzz' of the adrenaline as it rushes around the body as we take on an exciting new challenge, but in the long term stress can rob us of everything that is important. It can take away our good health and replace it with an aching head or back, or a wide range of other stress related disorders that are becoming commonplace. It can rob us of much needed rest and relaxation; it can even destroy our personal relationships, and as a result cause extreme emotional anguish. How often do we really pause for even a moment to see whether the path we have taken in life is actually making us more satisfied, fulfilled and contented - and if not, why not? Since happiness is the natural antidote to stress, maybe we first need take a good hard look at the ways in which we try to become happy and find out why it is that, in our endeavour to achieve this goal, we can end up feeling more stressed than ever. We could then perhaps find new, more effective strategies for achieving happiness.
On the whole, society rarely measures progress in terms of how people feel, concentrating instead on the ability to accomplish certain tasks in less time than we previously could. In fact, we are now 25 times more productive than we were 150 years ago, and during this time the manner in which we live has changed more than at any other time in human history. With the introduction of time-saving technology we have been promised an easier lifestyle with more comfort and leisure time than ever before, yet has this really happened? From the way many of us rush around trying to keep appointments, beat important deadlines or reach impossible targets, it seems as if the very opposite is happening. Even though it is obvious that we now live longer and are far more efficient than we used to be, when you add joy and fulfilment into the equation, it is not at all clear that we have really achieved a better quality of life overall.
When we talk about progress we must consider all aspects of life, and this should obviously include how much peace and happiness we feel. Despite the huge amount of technology now at our disposal, it seems that more people are suffering from continuous stress than perhaps any other period in peacetime. An increasing number of people are approaching their doctor because they find themselves trapped in an accelerated spiral of speed and stress which can manifest itself in chronic muscle tension, acute anxiety, fidgety or restless behaviour, or a distinct lack of peace of mind. Sleeping tablets or anti-depressants may be a solution to the immediate problem, but we need to find a more permanent answer that does not rely on the use of potentially addictive drugs, many of which lose their effect anyway over a period of time.
If we feel stressed during our working day, adrenaline - which causes the brain to be in a state of excitation - remains in our system for many hours or even days afterwards, and as a result we are likely to have less patience than usual. When we arrive home and things are not the way we expect, we may be more prone to anger or irritation than we otherwise would be. The increase in stress over recent years correlates closely with the high incidence of marital problems we see today.
Stress can over-stimulate the mind, eventually causing mental blocks or, conversely, an over-active mind, with little or no control over persistent unwanted thoughts, and an endless stream of worry for no reason. It affects us emotionally because we can lose control of our anger and react irrationally, and this may eventually damage relationships with family or friends. It is easy to see someone's performance suffer when there are under stress, thus making them much less efficient.
We must also take into consideration that stress is increasing rapidly and the instances of stress related illnesses could easily double over the next 20 years. It is vital to take steps to combat to prevent Ireland from following in the footsteps of other Western countries - The Alexander Technique can do just that.