Every day comes with its demand, but not every demand should cause us to stress ourselves. It turns out that some of us use stress to validate our lives. If we are not doing so much, if we are not putting in the right amount of hard work, it feels like we are lazy – as lazy as that puff-puff dough in cold groundnut oil that has refuse to swell and rise to the occasion.
We want to be busy, always doing something, always moving. It is like when we were younger and we carried heavy backpacks to school every day. If our bags were not heavy enough with textbooks, especially that Ugo C. Ugo (which we pronounced as ugosuiigo), it seemed as though we were lazy and dull students likely to fail the National Common Entrance Examination.
As we stress ourselves physically, we extend the stress to the mind. We allow the mind to run so fast, faster than an energised hamster on a wheel. It makes it harder to be present. We end up thinking ourselves into unhealthy mindspaces, which can lead to any form of anxiety and depression. Instead of being present, we dwell in the past, on things we cannot fix. We focus on the future, forgetting worrying never solves anything.
Asides dwelling in the past and future, we compare our journeys with that of other people. Before we know it, we compare ourselves into mental pain. Regardless of how amazing another person’s life might seem, we should realise everyone is battling something. People who seemingly have it all together have mastered the art of coping. To me, coping is a radical art of survival. And there are several ways of coping, some healthy, others toxic.
Being grateful for the things going right is one of the many healthy ways of coping. No matter how messy things are, there is always one thing for which we can be grateful. It is easy to lose sight of the many blessings we have when we tune our attention toward the things that our minds have understood as bad. The human mind processes good and bad without considering the bigger picture.
Something about the human mind makes it hold on to the negative aspects of things. It is a primal instinct meant to protect us from danger: something to do with evolution. This is why we can be kind to people for 364 days, but let us do something mean on day 365: we see that they hold on to it. They forget the good things we have done. This human attitude hinders us from showing gratitude. How often do we take a moment to count our blessings? At times, we wallow in sadness because we have failed to be grateful for the things we have working for us.
The interesting thing about life is that there would always be at least one thing with which we are struggling. These struggles change as we age. At a point, the hustle was waking up in the morning to start getting dressed for school. Another time, it was getting good grades at the university. The hustle soon becomes bothering about sending our kids (for those of us with kids or those who intend to have kids) to the right school.
To make life easier and more serene, we have to come to terms with the fact that there would always be one form of challenge or the other. We must learn how to cope with these challenges for us to go through them gracefully. To do this, it is important to have a gratitude mindset. This would enable us focus on the good things happening for us.
If sitting through traffic is stressing us, we can be grateful we are at least not trekking home.
If trekking home is stressing us, we can be grateful that we can trek by ourselves.
If that wish has not come true, we should remember that some of the things we have now were things we wished for once upon a time.
Showing gratitude does not mean that we ignore the messy things happening in our lives. Being grateful reminds us that things are not that bad, even though they could have been worse.
Life should not be stressful. It should be challenging, because that way we learn, evolve, and become the refined, best versions of ourselves. Individually, we should find healthy ways, based on the contexts we operate within, to cope with daily challenges without stressing ourselves.
PS: It is important that we take deep breaths whenever we feel overwhelmed by anything. And when we take deep breaths, we should try not to “tight chest” like someone forced us to lift weight. Inhale, fill your lungs. Hold the breath, feel it in your body. Exhale, imagine letting go of the stress. Hold and don’t breathe for a while. Clear your thoughts.