Tips for Coping with Toxic Stress – by Rev. Brian Shields

It used to be said that “an idol mind is the devil’s workshop.”  This may have been true for past generations, but letting our minds rest may be the best […]

It used to be said that “an idol mind is the devil’s workshop.”  This may have been true for past generations, but letting our minds rest may be the best thing that we can gift ourselves in today’s demanding culture.

From our twenty-four-hour news cycle to checking overflowing inboxes, Facebooking and Tweeting every moment, updating our status (or not), sending this text to that person while waiting in line, we have a million ways to stay “up on it” or current.  But, at what cost?  Through constant busyness and no rest, we create toxic stress in our lives.

Americans operate by a few adages: “I have to have more,” “I’ve got to do more,” and “I’m running late.”  Add to that our unconscious or subconscious messages: “I want to be wealthy,” “I want to appear wealthy,” “I aspire for a comfortable life (like those seen on tv and social media),” and “I don’t want to struggle, if I’m struggling something’s wrong with me.”

These mantras can help us move out of undesirable states into what we want.  With this drive, we can harness our power to accomplish great things and achieve our goals. But do we have to go at full throttle all the time?  Can our bodies, let alone our minds and spirits, sustain always pushing, leaning in, getting it done?

I grew up in a household where we believed and practiced doing your best, being responsible, etc.  Young adults and adults can adapt these concepts of motivating oneself, pushing through fatigue to meet that deadline.  This type of drive has helped me in academia and professionally.  Yet, at the end of the day, how much caffeine did I consume to “power through” a time where I felt like crawling into a ball and tuning out the world for a while?  How many times have I forced something to happen that may or may not have happened on its own if I let it?

At the end of a long day I want to rest, but my body may say otherwise because I’ve pushed it to its limits, yet again, for one more day.  It now is wired to be hyper ready and always vigilant even prior to going to bed. This kind of stress (and insomnia) come from asking out body to respond to everyday events as if they are emergencies, and it can have long-term effects on our health, happiness and relationships.

Let’s give ourselves a break!

By constantly being connected and on the go, our inner lives can suffer.  Maybe that desire to curl up in a ball is an indicator that I need to stop, rest and reset.  Can I fully listen to myself:  body, mind and spirit?

Toxic stress, my friends, begins to nip at our health, quality of life, and sense of purpose.

It’s time that we start to value time spent doing nothing – adults and children alike. What does this look like for you?  Meditation, yoga, art, journaling, observing nature, being outside, gardening, going out with a friend” just because.”

You can double the emotional and physical benefits with physical movement can guide us and provide the self-nurture that we crave for in our fast-paced demanding the world.

Doing nothing, intentionally, is both productive and valuable.

Yes, I said that.  Doing nothing can be the new productivity goal.

Our minds need rest, with extended periods of little or no stimulation.  (Hey! Put that Smartphone down…and walk away! You can come back to this article later. I don’t mind.)  When we allow ourselves to go in airplane mode or Do Not Disturb, we re-create who we are. We can identify what’s most important and discern that from what needs to be let go of.  Replenishing our wells of compassion and self-love may very well be the remedy of toxic stress.

This month’s EYEJ Challenge:  Look at your week and claim a block of time each day to unplug from your phone, including talking, texting, emails and social media.  Simply, let people who need to know what’s going to happen.  Now.  Keep this appointment with yourself.

One of the skills we teach during the EYEJ discussion series is how youth who experience chronic stress can take care of themselves. We also need to do this for ourselves. Let’s create a community of mutual support, one that honors self-care and minimizes stress. I know I could benefit from it.

Like the students we teach, we are valuable assets to our world; let’s take care of us first.

Rev. Brian Shields

Staff Chaplain/Healing Services Coordinator – Cleveland Clinic, EYEJ Social Justice Committee