Dear Dr. Norquist:
It seems like I’m always stressed out. I make lists every day of what has to be done because there is so much going on, with my work, my home, and my children’s activities. I’m always on the go, often doing two things at once. I find myself so run by the clock, so uptight about time. I’m so tense most of the time that I can’t take a deep breath – my chest is so tight. I’m always looking toward the future, when I envision that things will be calmer. I know this is not a good way to live my life – but I don’t know what else to do, because all these things have to get done. Do you have any suggestions for me?
Dr. Norquist responds:
I recently read a review of a book by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. In it she relates the main messages passed on by the thousands of people she has worked with over the years who are in the process of reviewing their lives as they ready themselves to leave this world. I was struck by the fact that many of them said they wished they had played more, and had not taken life so seriously. It seems to be a hallmark of adulthood to be serious, and to neglect the need to play. The demands and responsibilities of life seem to accrue over time, but we neglect to realize that the approach we take towards these demands and responsibilities is up to us.
We can choose to practice responding to life in a light-hearted, playful manner. Can you think of anyone that you know who does this? People like this are quite appealing. We are drawn to their humor, and to the atmosphere they create when interacting with others. This is something you can also create, if you choose to, with practice. To do this, it is helpful to stand back, and see your life and all of life from a distance. This kind of a perspective allows us to be a little more detached and lighthearted and more aware of what’s really important to us.
There is a richness in the present moment that most of us Westerners fail to notice or to let ourselves experience. We let ourselves get carried away with ordinary concerns, and worries, planning for the future, and doing what has to be done just to get it done. Practice bringing your whole self to the present. Focus your attention on what you are hearing, seeing, tasting, and experiencing kinesthetically. Embrace the present moment. Consent with your whole being to whatever is occurring this moment. This will bring a richness and a depth that is now currently missing in your approach to your daily activities. An analogy that may be helpful here is to focus on an awareness of the depth of the ocean, rather than just reacting to the surface waves (which can be likened to the constant worrying and planning and other clutter that habitually consumes our thoughts).
Take these ideas and add to them and personalize them so that you can incorporate them into your experience of your life. They are stress-reducing, life enhancing tips that do not require extra time from you – just a change in approach. Good luck and feel free to write again and let me know how it’s working.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanyacounseling.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2017 Chaitanya Counseling Services