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The Shame of Stress
By Blair Glaser

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A dear friend of mine, a terrific yoga teacher, is going through a huge transition in which family, work and physical changes are colliding all at once. At one point, she found herself exhausted. She visited a highly recommended acupuncturist. After listening to her pulse, he informed her in a stern tone that she was in a cycle of stress and exhaustion. Stress was depleting her resources, which made her tired and caused her body to stress out, which in turn caused more exhaustion. Hearing this, true as it may be, did not help her stress levels. There were no suggestions that came along with it that offered hope. Although the acupuncture treatment itself turned out to be restorative, her diagnosis, with its sense that she was doing something wrong, left a bad taste in the mouth. And it left me wondering, when did stress become a bad word -- something to be ashamed of?

This stress-free, do-it-all-perfectly attitude is promulgated in our culture by advertising that depicts women breezily making lots of money while simultaneously mothering, wife-ing and keeping in great shape. Anyone who has seen those Electrolux commercials with Kelly Ripa sailing through her immaculate child-ridden house doing a million chores completely at ease knows what I mean. And then, there is the spiritual/yoga movement with its Law of Attraction memes weaving their way through the culture, suggesting that stress is a choice we should somehow be able to avoid, grow beyond, rise above, or breathe through.

Through the ages life always has included stressful events such as floods and famines and illness and deadlines and bills and many things we cannot control. In my experience, stress is a part of the bumpiness of living, and a natural component of transitions and expansion. It occurs, along with excitement and other feelings, on the precipice of real transformation. It comes and goes in cycles.

Although for some, perpetual stressing out has become an accepted way of living, for others, especially in spiritually progressive circles, there is a tendency towards feeling ashamed of being stressed instead of accepting it as a part of life. The real concern about stress has to do with whether or not it is chronic. If it is, then shame or guilt will not help much, but it is necessary to address if you want to preserve your health. If you find yourself feeling stressed out and wanting to hide it, here are the questions to ask yourself:

Is this stress circumstantial? Is it due to a move, loss, a pending deal, or do I feel like this most of the time? Is it called up by a new opening in your life, replete with new responsibilities? If so, take as good care of yourself as possible through the event or transition, and schedule future time to relax, vacation and recuperate.

Am I addicted to stress? The answer is yes if you cannot enjoy taking a bath or a day off in your pajamas. And what about leaving the smartphone at home for an afternoon? If cannot honestly do any of the above, but you say, “at least I make time to exercise,” that probably doesn’t count. You have to be able and willing to rest.

If you are a stress addict, here are some further questions: What is working for me about feeling stressed out all the time? (Take you time with that one). And then, How does chronic stress affect my relationships? My health?

Serious attention to these questions without the pressure to change immediately can be illuminating and eventually freeing. You cannot burn the candle at both ends without eventually getting burned. If you want to preserve your health and your relationships, you will need to learn how to create and execute boundaries. You will need to learn how to delegate and give up some control and the stress that goes with it, and you will need to get help, as no one can make these genuine changes alone.

But whether your stress is circumstantial or chronic, there is no need to feel ashamed about it.

You might just want to invest in some acupuncture.

And remember, Love Yourself no matter what.

Please, as always, feel free to contact me through my site at www.blairglaser.com/contact/ and let me know your thoughts!

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BLAIR GLASER, MA, LCAT, RDT has taught women around the country innovative skills and new ways of thinking to improve their experience in their bodies, at work and in relationship. She has run workshops at retreat centers around the country, including Omega in Rhinebeck, NY and at her studio in Woodstock, NY. She is a New York licensed creative arts therapist, teaches drama therapy at a graduate level at Pratt Institute, and has guest-lectured about drama therapy at New Rochelle College, The New School, and New York University. She has run drama therapy groups with several different populations, including a group for teenage girls that she was recruited to facilitate by actor-activist Jane Fonda . She is in private practice and also speaks at conferences and gatherings.

Blair also worked from 1998 to 2004 as part of the core staff of Eve Ensler's V-Day, a movement to stop violence against women and girls, corresponding with women all over the world about issues of empowerment. Blair's articles have appeared online in UK's feminist e-zine, FLOW, at Sexual Health.com, and in the Hudson Valley Arts/ Spirit / Culture publication; Chronogram. You can visit Blair's web site at www.blairglaser.com.

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