I’m standing in line paying for my groceries. The credit card chip has my transaction moving slowly. The cashier, a young man accustomed to working quickly, complains about the slow pace of these new chips. Mindful of the opportunity to share a different perspective, I told him about discovering the gift of these new credit cards. I share with him that they’re not credit cards, they’re breathing cards. Slower processing time provides a moment, a gift, to slow down, take a deep breath, and relax myself. He smiled and accepted my invitation to catch his breath too. And in that moment of sharing a deep sigh, we celebrated our common desire, regardless of our differences, to overcome the stress of life and enjoy the feeling of comfort that comes when we choose wellness. We also agreed that the busy pace of our lives often results in forgetting the basic need to breathe. For my whole life, before integrating this discovery into my shopping, I used to process all of my credit card transactions at the often impersonal and fast pace set by a hardworking and conscientious cashier. But a practical approach to mental wellness beckons us to slow down in the everyday moments of life–including during the processing of a credit card. I believe that integrating the gift of a deep breath, even better when shared with another, into these everyday encounters is the key to making positive personal and social changes. Now, like credit on a card, I’m reminded to bank even greater well-being with a deep breath, and in so doing, make a mindful investment in my whole life.
People often ask me, “ Dr. Laurie, why do you put such an emphasis on stress in your Stress-Tension-Anxiety Recovery System ( S.T.A.R.S ) of Wellness™….is it really that important…isn’t stress just a normal part of our lives?”
The answer lies in understanding the insidious role stress plays in depleting the quality of our lives—physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.
Like so many Americans, I grew up feeling stressed out, uncomfortable in my skin, and anxious most of the time. I knew no other way to exist. Then at the age of 24, a life-threatening bone tumor stopped me in my tracks and forced me to change my whole perspective. It was tough because for the first 24 years of my life, I knew success in the outer world sense by working hard at everything I did. I was very-conscientious- -living with unrelenting standards— automatically applied to every aspect of my life. What I didn’t realize was that by giving so much to the outer world, I was sacrificing my inner world. In looking back, I’m not surprised that both my mind and body got compromised. I now realize that like so many hardworking adults, the affection for perfection—and the constant exhaustion that goes with it– made me vulnerable to a serious illness.
But everything changed after that hole in my bone awakened me to the virtues of whole person healing and why I needed to face the risks of living in the biochemistry of too much stress. I can honestly say overcoming this was the most challenging experience in my life. But what I learned during my quest to heal changed my whole life.
Stress is insidious in our culture—such a constant—that we don’t realize its
- disrupting our immune systems
- negatively altering our brain chemistry
- leading us to unhealthy comforters.
Stress tempts us to fill the hole in our souls with a wide variety of convenient , albeit unhealthy comforters. The most common comforters in our culture, junk food and alcohol, are tricky because once their tranquilizing effect wears off, they leave us with even more stress to contend with.
This vicious cycle feeds the tension, anxiety and worry that further depletes the quality of our lives and even has the potential to threaten our very existence, as it did for me. Experts in all fields agree that just about every known human disease, is either caused by, or exasperated by the physiology of stress. Despite this fact:
- Are you working excessive hours?
- Are you juggling the unrealistic demands of modern life?
- Are you engaging in a culture that moves too fast?
Like most of us who accept being victimized by stress, I would have remained this way my whole life, if not for the upside of an illness that opened my eyes to the life-depleting effects of too much stress.