There is no such thing as a stress-free life. Being alive means experiencing stress. As I age, opportunities to choose stress seem to increase.

No matter how well cared for my life may be, there will always be details I cannot control.

I recently had a conversation I was given permission to share in which the person I was talking with told me:

I know a person who worked for a couple of years as a server in a seniors’ residence who told me that the hardest part of the job was learning to deal calmly and kindly but firmly with residents who, although otherwise cogent and logical, got really upset over the slightest irregularity in the dinner-serving process or expected menu.

I saw exactly that when I visited someone living in an excellent seniors’ residence. Since I was able to stay there too, I was with them at every meal. This person is a retired professional, intelligent etc and still in possession of all faculties, whose needs are completely taken care of in this facility.  And yet I was stunned to see how wrapped around the axles this person could get over some insignificant departure from “normal” in the way breakfast was served.  Amazing.

Attempting to gain control over life is not the answer. Unexpected outcomes are part of every life. The attempt to wrestle life under control only increases the level of stress. A stress-free life is always just over the hill of the next achievement and around the corner of more efficient organization.

As a wise elder recently said in my hearing,

We have a tendency to get more and more upset over lesser and lesser issues until we can get completely distraught about nothing at all.

The only possibility for dealing with stress is to change my attitude towards those things I use to trigger my anxiety.

So what attitudes help deal with inevitable stress?

1. Accept that the circumstances of life are not under my control.

The reality of aging is that the older I get the less control I have.

Whatever patterns I develop today in the face of stress will become increasingly entrenched as the years go by. This can have disastrous consequences as my ability to control life inevitably diminishes. Developing skills today for dealing with stress will help me live more peaceably in the midst of stress as my natural capacities diminish.

2. Practice letting go at every opportunity.

Start with small things. Letting go of smaller things over which I have no control helps develop the letting go muscles that will then be there when I need them for bigger challenges.

If I clutch and grab resisting life as it is, when I still have relatively robust coping mechanisms and some skills at controlling small bits of my world, I am preparing myself for greater frustration in the future as become less able to control more aspects of my life.

3. Be brutally honest about the sources and causes of my stress.

A lot of stress comes from anxiety about how I appear in public. Other stress resides in my fear that I am not in control of life and that a circumstance is going to arise that will overwhelm me. There are times when I intentionally choose stress by seeking out drama and intensity; this is a costly choice.

I can never afford to indulge stress. Any external force or circumstance I allow to slip into the centre of my life will always become a source of anxiety.

4. Find a way to connect with the place within myself that is stronger and more peaceful than all the circumstances of life over which I have no control.

There are practices that can help me find a peaceful place within myself. I can relax my body. I can stop, stand still and take a deep breath. There may be times I need to walk away from unhealthy anxiety-inducing circumstances.

Giving in to stress is never worth the price. When I indulge stress, I diminish my ability to live in peace. My desire is to live at peace with myself and with the realities of my world as they are.

The promise is clear; there is a way to live that brings greater peace into my life. But I must work the program; I must do the practice.

Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9)

5. Recognize the gift in stress.

Stress challenges me to live more deeply. Stress is always a call to trust more fully and to seek that place of freedom I only know when I rest in the goodness of  God’s Spirit at work in my life.

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