Jettison overstuffed schedules, reduce stress to win healthier
Tue, Jul. 01, 2003
A woman I've know many years stopped to chat the other day at the local bake shop. She is an executive at a social agency and has dedicated herself to her work for more than 25 years.
She is stressed, however, to the point that you can see it all over her face. It was 9 a.m. on a Monday and she looked exhausted. She had worked over the weekend, she told me, and the week ahead looked crazy, and there would be more meetings on Saturday, and on and on.
Somehow we got around to talking about dietary supplements, and she told me that she once took so many supplements that they lined her bathroom countertop, but that now she is down to only a couple on the advice of her doctor. She went on to note her various ailments. I was almost waiting for her to say her toenails were falling off, she sounded like such a wreck.
At one point, we looked at each other and laughed. She knew and I knew that there wasn't a dietary supplement on the planet that would get at her issues.
She doesn't have any awful disease. But the stress, the constant moving in circles, the life that no longer seems in balance -- these things had taken a toll. Work hadn't exactly gone the way she envisioned. She felt trapped by circumstances.
"You're killing yourself," I chided her.
"That's right," she retorted. "I'll be dead and you'll say, `I told you so.' "
We laughed again and parted on those words.
I continued reading the morning newspapers. It so happened that The New York Times carried a story that day on questionable research claims about dietary supplements.
Take life slower
The report told about how supplement makers sometimes suppress negative data, for example, or change the statistical methods in an effort to show better results. Meanwhile, Americans spend about $18 billion a year on these over-the-counter remedies -- seeking wellness in one way or another.
A couple of things came to mind, after reading the story and thinking about that conversation at the bakery. First, a recent lecture by Joan Fox, who heads the Cleveland Clinic Foundation's Center for Integrative Medicine. In speaking about wellness, Fox centered her talk on the need to address the root causes of stress. At times, she said, it may be necessary to make lifestyle changes in order to put our hearts and minds at peace. She urged getting rid of emotional baggage -- which entails forgiving past hurts, and focusing on things that allow relaxation, perhaps in the form of meditation, or physical exercise.
The other thing that came to mind is something Deepak Chopra discussed in his book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. Chopra pointed to an age-old philosphy in India known as the principle of economy of effort. It means doing less and accomplishing more.
Sure, you say. Yet Chopra pointed to all the energy we waste -- in defending our views, for example, or in trying to control situations in an attempt to force certain outcomes.
"If you observe nature at work, you will see that least effort is expended," Chopra wrote. "Grass doesn't try to grow, it just grows. Fish don't try to swim, they just swim.... Least effort is expended when your actions are motivated by love, because nature is held together by the energy of love."
I can relate a bit to the concept of least energy. After getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis three-and-a-half years ago, I knew I needed to slow down and give myself more time to relax. I became much more discriminating about how I spent energy. I learned to say no to things I really didn't want to do. And I became more concious of the times I'd get bogged down in things beyond my control. (A constant challenge, given the stuff always happening in life.) Now the important things get done without nearly so much frenzy.
My grandmother used to say in Italian "piano, piano." The translation
means softly, or slowly. What my grandmother meant was that in time, we
learn our lessons.
Copyright © 2003, Beacon Journal