Many friends have told us lately that they are feeling stressed and overwhelmed. They aren’t alone. Some surveys peg the increase of anxiety in the general population at more than 25%. This is, of course, not a new problem. Paramhansa Yogananda addressed it in a 1927 article, “Nervousness: The World’s Disease.”
Master identified the main causes of nervousness as 1) long-continued overactivity, 2) excessive stimulation of the senses from physical overindulgence, and 3) mental overstimulation from chronic fear, anger, sorrow, hatred, jealousy, discontent, or similar harmful emotions.
He said, “Any violent or prolonged excitement disturbs the flow of life force through the nervous system. If you put a two-thousand-volt current through a fifty-watt lamp, it will burn out the lamp. In the same way, excessive stimulation burns the nerves, cutting off the supply of energy and upsetting the functioning of the nervous system.
‘The most damaging emotions are anger and fear. (Worry is usually a fear that something undesirable will happen.) As soon as you are angry or afraid, you burn the nerves.
“Anger burns the nerves in the brain and causes poisons to be secreted throughout the body. Fear burns the nerves that supply the heart and can cause heart trouble. Feelings of timidity destroy the nerve endings.”
Merely understanding the causes of anxiety will not, of course, cure us of feeling overwhelmed. Here is a four-step approach to help fix this problem.
Step 1: Prioritize and Trim. A main cause of overwhelm is taking on too much. The first step is to separate that which we must do from that which we merely choose to do. Make a list of the demands in your life and separate them into these two categories. As you do this be sure also to consult the feelings of your heart and the whispers of your soul.
Swami Kriyananda addressed this in a satsang with Ananda Village members in 1990. He said, “A principle I try very hard to live by is to give from strength, not from weakness or exhaustion. I simply ignore demands if I’m forced to work in a way that makes me lose my peace. It’s important to be with God, to meditate, to take time to be with friends. It’s important to work from your center and not to overextend. Too much extension becomes tension.”
He added, “Sometimes there are start-up periods and crises that demand extraordinary efforts. I’m saying: Don’t make it a habit. Respect your rhythms.”
Step 2: Release Your Resistance. A second major problem is the internal friction that comes from resisting that which we need to do. If you’ve followed the first step you should now have a two-part list. Try to eliminate some demands that aren’t crucial. Determine to accept unavoidable duties willingly, even cheerfully. Negative reactions cause internal stress. Focus on the positive features of your responsibilities and you will soon see them grow easier. Above all, don’t allow resentment and anger to fill your mind with poison. As Master said, “It burns the nerves in the brain.”
Step 3: Strengthen Yourself. Your first responsibility is YOU. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. Remember, you have a body, a mind, and a soul, and each needs attention. For the body: eat well, exercise daily, and get enough rest. But don’t overdo any of these. For the mind, make time for some uplifting stimulation, deep thinking, and a little laughter. For your emotions, set aside time for those things and people that make you happy, and avoid things that make you upset or angry. In today’s media-driven world this is a global problem, and it is burning up the world’s nervous system. For the soul, meditate and serve others.
Step 4: Give Your Problems to God. This may come as a shock to you, but you aren’t responsible for the world’s welfare. It is enough to take responsibility for your own well-being and to try to help those who are in your circle of influence. Leave the rest to God. In fact, here is an even better idea: Leave everything to God.
Download a printable PDF file that summarizes this four-step approach.
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