---- — Many of us grew up perplexed by the story of the “Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.” The details of her tragic life made all of us wonder how she ended up in this predicament. Her biography reads like this:
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children; she didn’t know what to do.
She gave them some broth without any bread,
Then whipped them all soundly, and put them to bed.
If any person suffered from the stress of daily life, it was this old woman. She lived in sub-standard housing. She apparently bore the responsibility of raising many children all on her own, allowing mounting pressure to exasperate her motherly instincts. Food was scarce. Angry and impulsive behavior toward her children escalated to the point of near abuse. And finally, the sordid enemies of isolation and depression slowly invaded her life, excusing her to sadly sweep her problems off to bed, too exhausted to deal with them any longer. Depressingly, her day would begin the same way the next morning.
Stress and anxiety are normal and natural consequences of life. We all endure personal issues, large and small, on a daily basis. Hopefully, we are strong enough to handle them when they come individually or during the times when they arrive in bundles.
First of all, some amount of stress is necessary and beneficial to us. Many place stress on their bodies to perform better in athletics. We all generate high anticipation for meaningful and goal-related events, causing angst and pressure. It’s all part of life.
Whenever I feel mounting pressure crouching at the door of my life, I attempt to identify the sources of my stress. I look closely at my attitude and habits. Managing stress is all about taking charge of my thoughts, emotions, schedule and the way I deal with problems. We must not blame other people or fool ourselves into thinking we are the only ones who have unique sets of circumstances. Rather, we must view stress as an entirely normal part of life on earth. Sometimes we must learn to say “no” and limit our responsibilities. Other times we may need to begin the process of:
• Adapting to stressors and accepting the things we cannot change.
• Managing our time better by sticking to commitments and using a calendar to keep us on track.
• Reframing our problems, viewing them from a more positive perspective rather than fuming.
• Looking at the bigger picture, asking ourselves how important of a matter this will be in a month or year. This frames the amount of energy, endurance and emotional investment required. Is it really worth stressing over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
• Learning to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentment. Free yourself of negative energy by forgiving and moving on.
• Treasure the love and support of family and friends.
• Exercise plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise six days per week. Aerobic activity, especially performed outside, releases pent-up tension.
• Well-nourished bodies are bettered prepared to handle stress. Eat as many colorful foods as possible, and enjoy indulging in your favorite sweets from time to time, too.
• Meditation and reflection are necessary for sanity. When we robotically go through life without time to reflect, we miss connecting conclusion statements about our existence on earth. Our lives are not simply comprised of “to-do lists.” We must also ask the why questions surrounding our lives, too. Yoga, tai chi and other similar movements help center us. Philosophy, soothing music and poetry are helpful antidotes to sadness. And, sacred scripture provides powerful insight and perspective to every issue we face.
Perhaps the old women in the shoe could not have changed every circumstance in her life, but she could have changed at least one, her attitude. If so, her biography could have read like this:
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she had to make do.
She gave them some broth without any bread
Then hugged them all tightly, and tucked them in bed.
Dana Neer is a local coach and fitness enthusiast who contributes a monthly column. He may be reached by email at Dana.Neer@Culver.org.