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How often do you hear from friends, family, colleagues, and just about everyone else that they are “stressed out?” How often do you feel that way yourself?
Barely concealing tired or worn out looks on their faces, they really don’t have to say anything. But what does it really mean to be stressed? Stress can certainly be physical, like an injury or muscular pain. It can also be chemical, caused by pollution or poor nutrition. It can even be emotional, for victims of abuse or self-loathing thoughts. These are all factors that cause bodily or mental tension–factors that contribute to disease, aging and weight fluctuations.
Stress may also stem from or contribute to job loss, upheaval, marital problems, and chronic busy-ness. Not surprisingly, getting away to some real or imagined retreat may be eagerly sought, but even vacations can be stressful.
So as you can probably see, stress is the new health crisis. It affects people worldwide, but seems especially pronounced in developed, materialistic countries like the United States, where productivity, busy-ness and even frantic, constant activity are often revered and demanded.
Working with clients in my personal training and wellness practice, I hear how stressed they are, and how often they feel guilty for simply taking time off. I try to help them realize that self-love = self-care—that having personal boundaries is a form of self-respect. With so many responsibilities and stressors pulling on us daily, maintaining healthy boundaries between yourself and others can alleviate stressful encroachments, with the added benefit of averting serious health problems.
Of course, when we’re around stressed-out people every day, and live in the midst of a stress-producing culture, it tends to seep into our lives, too.
The Baha’i teachings have helped me understand how this works—that both health and illness can be contagious:
… in reality both health and sickness are contagious. The contagiousness of disease is rapid and violent, whereas that of health is exceedingly slow and weak. If two bodies are brought into contact with each other, it is certain that microbial particles will be transmitted from one to the other. In the same way that disease is rapidly and violently transmitted from one body to another, the strong health of a healthy person may also alleviate a very slight condition in a sick person … In such cases, the strength of the healthy body overcomes the slight weakness of the sick body and brings about its health. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 294.
So the old saw: “be careful who you let into your life,” really does matter to your well-being.
When friends ask “So, how are you doing?” many if not most people will reply that they have been “Very busy!” typically prompting the questioner to reply: “That’s great! It is better to be busy than not.”
I disagree. Instead, it’s important to have balance. When you’re too busy so much of the time, meaningful connections with people—or even with yourself—can be seriously compromised. A hurried life leaves us periodically wondering: where has the time gone? How did the grey hairs and wrinkles happen so soon? Or why am I feeling so fatigued, exhausted and plagued by anxiety, depression, colds, and apparently a weakened immune system; not to mention weight fluctuations, hair loss and a host of other unhealthy problems?
Of course, neither extreme busy-ness nor extreme laziness are healthy ways to live, because both can cause severe stress on the body and on the mind. Having some balance in life requires feeling good about taking a day or a couple of hours off from everything to just breathe, to pray and meditate, to hike a beautiful mountain, to have a technology-free conversation over lunch with a loved one, to get a guiltless massage, to read a good book, and yes, to even watch a television show. Such breaks can help to de-stress an overly stressful life, as well as mitigate the guilt that seems to trickle into the mind.
So it is important to shepherd your life and not be shepherded. As important as getting along can be, what others may be thinking matters less than what loving compassion you can give the world if you first take care of yourself.
In a real sense, then, learning to set boundaries is essential to peace of mind, body and spirit. Such self-discipline enables one to actually help others once the self has been nurtured. What happens when you get an illness that erupts because of stress? Who are you able to help then? Unbelievably, a huge percentage of people have been or are now on anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications. This says a great deal about unsustainable levels of stress for people who seemingly have everything.
So think about how stress has become the new health crisis. Take into advisement that your state of being really matters, since how you feel can pleasure or burden friends, family or acquaintances. Take the time to pray, meditate and relax on a daily basis, and you’ll shed some stress on the path toward a healthier life.