Taking control of stress and its hidden symptoms

It is springtime. Gazing at a sea of red of tulips or driving under a canopy of glorious blossoms is one of the most uplifting moments of a day – something to enjoy and to remember later on a cold winter day. Yet, for many of us, life is so burdened with tension and stress, that we often do not notice these little things, or remember them.

A study at Carleton University in Ottawa found that about a third of Canadians feel that they are under stress. The reasons are many – trauma, work overload, financial challenges, or unhappy family relationships.

A rarely recognized sign of stress caught my attention in the Carleton University study under the title, “Spiritual Signs of Stress.” This sign or symptom, which we don’t usually attach to stress, is cynicism. Cynicism is that nagging, negative feeling of mistrust and doubt due to a build-up of life’s ups and downs; its hurts and betrayals. Viewing life through mistrustful lenses, we are constantly on the alert and on the defensive – our fight or flight reactor permanently switched on. This negative viewpoint can silently drain us for years, going undetected and unnoticed.

However, recognizing cynicism as a health concern, we should be more willing to find a solution to it, just as we would address a poor diet or lack of exercise for health reasons.

Researchers find spiritual stress not easy to define and difficult to quantify, but in her article, “What is spiritual stress?” Eve Adamson describes it this way:

“It is the neglect of and the eventual loss of our spiritual lives, or the part of us that hopes, loves, dreams, plans, and reaches for something greater and better in humanity and in life. It is the non-corporeal in us, the soul. … Think of it as the part of you that can’t be measured, calculated, or wholly explained – the you that makes youyou.”

To be healthier in every way, we need to consciously take care of this important part of us in a way that heals cynicism as well as other signs of stress. What’s needed is a rethink about how we view our world and our place in it.

Understanding the circumstances that lead us to feel mistrustful, at risk, not valued or cared for and, thus, cynical is a great start. Often we find it is the continual remembering of a whole history of negative events that brings us to that stressed and cynical viewpoint. But we shouldn’t stop at just recognizing the problem.

Nature gives us lessons on this subject. For example, does the blossom tree on your street feel any more stressed because of winter? Every spring it puts out its blossoms again with renewed vigour and beauty, regardless of how difficult the winter may have been.

No matter how many times the harshness of human life seems to freeze our very souls, our spiritual roots can go deeper, always bringing a sense of connection, renewal and  energy. But they need nurturing just as any garden does.

Nurturing a spiritual practice builds a stronger, more rooted sense of unity with the divine. And, this builds a sense of stability, safety as well as new perspectives. The prayers of Jesus, for example, show us that in communing with God we can find a safe place where we can learn to see ourselves from a more spiritual standpoint, which allows us to respond to difficulties more effectively. Even in our darkest of moments, this action can redefine how we see the world – lifting the mistrust, anger, and fear that breed cynicism.

A friend of mine shared an inspiring story of this freedom from cynicism that comes from trusting the divine. She said that she witnessed the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu, during their visit to Vancouver some years ago, running down a hallway together, laughing and giggling like schoolboys. Both of these men have experienced unbelievable tragedy and betrayal, yet their trust in divine goodness, their sense of joy, innocence and beauty remains undiminished for all to witness. No one could accuse either of them of being cynical despite the heartbreaking events they have faced.

Rather than submitting to a sense of hopelessness and cynicism, embracing  each day with trust in divine goodness builds confidence. Then we have time to notice that spring is here, and remember the lesson of the blossom tree the next time we look at it.


This article was published in the Vancouver Sun HERE