By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
Did you smile or sigh when reflecting on 2015?
Many tend to glance at their bank balance, thinking of a nice new car or a house. Some think about job advancement or finding love. I wonder how many out there would count having good health as a wonderful gift? If you do, you are perhaps one of the few smart ones. Frankly, without health, we can’t do much. Other accomplishments would quickly be overshadowed when we are sick.
A big question people Google at the end of 2015 is: How to manage stress? If you know how to manage your anxiety, depression, and anger, you should celebrate because you possess an unusual ability, one in which many others lack.
What grade would you give yourself on managing stress in 2015?
I assume most people who surf the internet must be giving themselves Cs or Ds.
I give myself a solid B+, and I am shooting for an A– in 2016. It requires tremendous self-discipline, self-acceptance, and self-awareness to handle stress well.
I credit my friends for inspiring me with these priceless revelations. Their life lessons have transformed my life.
1. Avoid the stock market
I have watched friends go insane and get sick because of the volatility of the stock market.
If you are not in the finance business, don’t look at the ticker every day. Those numbers that go up and down will make you too excited, exhausted, regretful, disappointed, sad, and frustrated. It’s hard to have peace of mind if you are obsessed with how much money you are making or losing every day.
“Worse come to worse, just sell your stocks if it doesn’t give you much joy,” a friend of mine advised.
Another option is to get a reputable money manager to oversee your portfolio. It costs a fee, but it’s worth it to have your health and mind back. The other solution is to invest in something steadier and longer term, such as real estate and index funds.
2. Let go of anxiety
It’s important for us to accept the fact that no matter how good of a job we do, other people might do it better. The important thing is to try our best and not worry about others.
If you don’t get the results you want, don’t get upset. Instead, reward yourself for the effort and value the fringe benefits, such as the relationships you sustained and the knowledge you gained.
I know it’s easy to tell people to let go, but it’s hard to do, especially when you or your loved ones are really sick. It’s hard not to worry. Fear of dying creates feelings of stress and loss of appetite and sleep.
Conventional wisdom states that those who are affected should be positive and hopeful. My friend, a math professor who had advanced mantle cell lymphoma, had a different approach. First, he was not afraid of the disease.
“I was optimistic though. Basically, I didn’t accept [that] I was sick, psychologically, and tried to do the normal things. I concentrated on my math,” he said. “It’s a good way to keep my mind away from the disease.”
Working on math made him happy. He channeled his energy. He focused on what he could control, not what he couldn’t.
Author Eckhart Tolle said, “Worry pretends to be necessary, but serves no useful purpose.”
It takes a lot of practice to step back and not let fears and bitterness consume you. Practice, practice, and practice.
3. Recognize sources of stress
If you are an alcoholic or drug addict, admit it and recognize that you have caused yourself and others pain. Take initiatives to change your life. If you are in a demanding job like mine, identify factors that cause fears and frustrations. One of our challenges is continuously presenting interesting columns and editorial topics. My solution is to develop new blog’s themes every few weeks. Having topics decided upon in advance makes me feel much more relaxed and confident in my work.
4. Don’t blame others or yourself
What happens to us sometimes doesn’t have any rhyme or reason. Problems just meander into life when we least expect them to. Overanalyzing your life’s events might paralyze your mind.
Some play the blame game, driving themselves and their loved ones crazy.
Forgive yourself and others. Move on. I love the way my friend, who got laid off, said, “It’s one of those life lessons for me.” She laughed. “I still expect to get fired at some point in my life,” she added jokingly. What a refreshing vision!
When Seattle University Father Steve Sundborg suffered a heart attack years ago, he said, “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.” How many of you think of a heart attack as a gift?
5. Don’t go down to the wire
The late Sen. Ted Kennedy took his work in the Senate seriously. He always picked his suit and tie the night before going to the Senate. His rituals were part of his routine to prepare himself mentally to deal with Congress the following day.
Who would dare to fire me for having a late deadline for my stories? But no, I choose not to. I usually hand in my blog on Mondays, not Tuesdays or Wednesdays.
6. Incorporate strengths of different beliefs
I am not a religious person, but I embrace multiple religious philosophies. They enable me to adapt to changes quickly, comfort myself when I need to, and open my mind to more possibilities beyond the horizon. Stress tends to limit one’s thinking and actions.
I embrace Buddhism — its compassion, long-term vision, and meditation practices. I follow the Bible’s 10 Commandments.
“Don’t just see a baby who is just born,” said my friend, who is studying Buddhism for her doctorate. “Take a long view. Imagine the day he dies.”
7. Find a sanctuary and thoroughly savor it
Slow your mind down when it is racing. Locate a soothing spot in your home or office, where you can relax, pray, meditate, and reflect freely on the present.
8. Take walking breaks every hour
Technology has enabled us to take regular breaks. Just program your computer or phone to remind you to stop working, to drink water, and to take short walks — whether you go just outside your office or into the woods.
9. Find hobbies and play hard, play often
Many of my friends say they like to read or work out at the gym in their spare time. But reading or working out are not exactly ‘playing.’
Playing is the best method of de-stressing. It’s not goal-oriented. It’s an important source of relaxation and stimulation.
It’s never too late to find your passion for playing. It can be hula dancing, fishing, yoga, horse-back riding, or playing with pets.
10. Change the routine creatively
How do I avoid long meetings and lunches?
Last Saturday, my friend and I lunched at a restaurant next to the YMCA gym in West Seattle so that we
could chat and walk around a track for half an hour after eating.
I felt I achieved a lot in one day, in mind and body.
When friends visit my office during the summer, I often ask, “Would you like to take a walk in the International District?” Usually, I get positive responses.
If you want to last, put yourself first! (end)
Assunta Ng can be reached at email@example.com.