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On the Corner

BY ROBERT DOCTER – 

So, you hold the camera and take a snapshot of your life. The camera sees everything and compresses it into a two-dimensional format–but everything visible is there. You focus on a small part of the picture and give meaning to it. It makes you feel something. It makes you think something. Your body responds.

So–how’s life? Got stress?

You hear electric bills probably will end up close to double what we’ve been paying.

Some unexpected major expenses suddenly appear.

People a lot younger than you are dying of natural causes.

You wonder if you’ve “measured up.”

You worry about this and that–the family, the nation, the Army, the corps, (they’re different) the work, friends, people, money.

You’re in a rehab program, and you’re scared to death you’re going to relapse.

Yesterday, the alarm didn’t go off–the car ran out of gas–and with a brand new carpet down, a major pipe breaks and donates two inches of water everywhere.

They’ve been using a jackhammer on the floor above you for 10 straight days.

Your daughter is going out with a guy who has a stud in his nose.

You learn the Dodgers still don’t have a catcher after spending millions on pitching, and some key Laker players act like juveniles.

You agree to do something with someone you don’t want to do.

You’ve been workin’ a job for almost 20 years and you’re 45–lookin’ at another 20 of the same thing before you retire. You feel trapped.

You know that just because you’re a little paranoid doesn’t mean “they’re” not out to get you.

On the whole, things are going very well.

STRESShow do you deal with it? Do you know how? Got any idea what it is–where it comes from?

Stress comes from a perceived threat and our response to it. The body focuses on the perceived threat and goes into a “fight-or-flight” mode. The body experiences increased tension, elevated heart rate, stroke volume and output, increased blood pressure, less saliva, more sodium retention, increased perspiration, change in respiratory rate, increased serum glucose, more hydrochloric acid in the stomach, pupils dilate, increased brain function. It’s getting you ready for something–and it’s automatic. And the longer this stress level is there, the more damage it does to the body. It can make us physically and mentally ill.

Note–stress is a perceived threat–physically or psychologically. A lot of what we worry about and dwell on doesn’t really constitute a threat at all. Two people might focus on the same threat, feel stress, but allow the physiological response to impact them for widely different duration.

You see, we give meaning to our own perceptions. We assign them levels of importance in our lives. We determine the level of danger surrounding the threat depending on the focus intensity of our perceptions. Some of that danger might be reality based. We ought to be scared and ready to fight or flee when confronted by real danger. Some of it is imaginary. Some of it is self-imposed because we measure ourselves against criteria that might or might not be appropriate.

So, got stress?

Better learn how to relax. When we are genuinely relaxed our mind goes into an altered state of consciousness much kinder to our bodies. Our muscles lose tension, our heart rate slows, our breathing is deep and regular, our eyes close, our mind steadies.

Cardiologist Herbert Benson, author of The Relaxation Response, talks about the “faith factor.” If you can’t figure a way to relax any other way–try prayer–especially repetitive prayer. The Lord’s Prayer works for me.

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