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Life Acts, I React

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Stress is a much-talked-about issue today. Current literature points to the impact it has on emotional, mental and physical health. I get very concerned when researchers tell me that stress is a main contributor in the development of both emotion- and age-related illnessess, including the dreaded cancer.

Stress is a much-talked-about issue today. Current literature points to the impact it has on emotional, mental and physical health. I get very concerned when researchers tell me that stress is a main contributor in the development of both emotion- and age-related illnessess, including the dreaded cancer. So, like many others, I actively pursue ways to alleviate stress and prolong my life.

Overall, I fare well at addressing the challenges posed by stress. Yet I fall into a familiar trap. I treat stress like an external pressure bearing down on me that I must control or avoid if I am to have any peace. So I manipulate my life to ensure a controlled, peaceful environment. I cut my 70-hour workweek back to 60, jog every morning and avoid the people that cause me discomfort. But I don't often realize how my pursuit of control adds to my stress. On any given day, life just happens, exposing how little control I actually have. More importantly, I forget that the real source of my stress originates from inside of me rather than from outside of me.

Stephen Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, tells us, "stress is the reaction of the body to any stimulus or interference that disturbs mental or physical health...stress is created by what we think and how we respond emotionally rather than what has happened to us."

In other words...Life acts and I react! The quality of my life is not nearly as dependent on external events as it is on internal responses. How I react to life's pressures is the only real control I have, and by and large those reactions are determined by conscious choices. Each choice is ultimately a choice for either life or death. Either the choice will empower me or it will diminish my personal power.

Last September 11th gave us examples of how different people react to life's enormous pressures.

Marci Borders escaped one of the World Trade Center towers just before it collapsed. She was caught on camera looking completely lost and covered from head to toe with ashes. Since that September, she has rarely left her home and has given up her daughter to an ex-husband. She spends much of her time at home obsessing about when the next act of terrorism will take place. Her reaction is reflected in these words, "I used to believe in America. Where is America now? Nobody's helping me. I did my part. Now it is time for America to do its part."

A fireman named Paul Bessier was also caught in the events of 9/11. He lost six of his best friends in the tragedy and his response is, "I feel like a ghost walking around, but life is sweeter. I've enjoyed every day. If it was me that ended up on the ashes and the other guy was still on earth, I'd want him to have a fantastic life."

Faced with the same event, two different people respond in different ways. Both were victimized, but Marci responds as a victim, fixating on external factors out of her control and looking to others to make it right, while Paul responds with an attitude that reflects perspective and character. He chooses not to fixate on the event's injustice, but chooses to be grateful for the extra time granted him.

The ability to make this kind of choice goes beyond simple logic. Often when faced with crisis, my emotions hijack my thinking, and I behave in a way that I later regret. I need to harmonize my head, heart and spirit to overcome the emotional hijacking, make good decisions and exercise sound behaviour. The co-operation of the internal forces of head, heart and spirit forms strong character, and strong character allows me to react effectively to life's pressures.

In subsequent articles I will discuss how to integrate these internal forces so that you can enhance the quality and quantity of your life by alleviating stress. I choose not to be a victim of life. How about you?

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