We all buy into the myth that our stress is caused by something or that it comes from the circumstances in our lives, but I have finally discovered and proved to myself that it actually comes from within. Ask any doctor and they will tell you that stress is a large factor in many illnesses. We live in a world of vast medical knowledge, sophisticated drugs and technology and yet our hospitals are under more pressure than ever. Of course this just leads to more stress. Let’s face it with Super-bug and MRSA scares almost a daily occurrence, there is a constant worry about getting ill in the first place. It has recently dawned on me that one of the main reasons we are all so stressed is that it is just easier to be that way; we just can’t be bothered to relax and stay calm.
I was in London last week and on the return journey from Heathrow airport there were many opportunities for panic, worry and mini breakdowns. I arrived at the airport the recommended two hours before the flight to find a long queue at the check-in desk. I thought I could speed up the process by checking in on one of the machines, which I did, but I still had to join the queue to drop off my bag; checking in automatically made no difference to my wait whatsoever. Having finally dropped off my bag I made my way to the departure gate. There were four long queues for the x-ray machines. Of course typically I had to join the slowest one. As I neared the top the reason for the snail pace crawl became obvious. I had joined the lane that was doubling as a ‘staff priority’ route. For every ordinary passenger taking off their shoes, emptying their change and generally disrobing in order to go through the metal detector, ten airline staff were jumping ahead at regular intervals. Initially you didn’t realise this was happening as the queue snaked around a corner and it was only as you got close to the top that it became apparent.
There were two choices. You could get mad and have a go at both the security people inside the conveyer belt and also throw a few snide comments at the staff making their way through, or you could remain calm and decide that there was nothing you could do about it. I chose the latter. Several chose the former and, as I had mentally calculated, all they got was raised blood pressure. The security staff listened to the rants from various disgruntled passengers, remained calm, agreed that it was silly to have passengers mixed in with airline staff but that was how it was. Some chose not to air their views loudly, but muttered to themselves, getting angrier by the second. They were still experiencing the same negative feelings even though they didn´t necessarily voice them to anyone in particular and nobody got through any quicker.
By the time I had put my shoes back on and gathered my belongings from the tray there was only just enough time to get to the gate. Foregoing a quick flit around the duty free I arrived at the gate to discover a one hour and ten minute delay. After thirty minutes this turned into a three hour delay. It wasn’t just my flight either. There had been severe fog at Heathrow that morning and every flight was now behind. The stress fest began in earnest as the tannoy announcements came thick and fast. It was interesting looking around at the other travellers. Some were having visible nervous breakdowns while others just got on their phones and made the necessary calls. So here we were, all in the same boat, the same stressors running amok and yet some chose not to indulge while others got extremely agitated. Again the circumstances were unchangeable but the reaction to them was totally within everyone´s control.
I had good reason to panic if I chose to. I had to get to Cork, then to Waterford, un-pack and re-pack and get back to Cork airport for another flight very early the following morning. All this flying around the world sounds very glamorous but I can assure you my life is not normally like this. Unavoidably these two trips happened back to back with less than twenty four hours between the two.
As an experiment I remained totally calm. I didn’t give in to the temptation to fret. I refused to engage in the heavy sighing and scowling at the uniformed staff. Indeed when the three hours were up and it was time to board I smiled as I handed over my boarding card and got on the plane. I felt better, they felt better and believe it or not I got home safely and got sorted out. Now it did mean a night without sleep which is not the best way to embark on a trip, but that would still have been the case had I indulged in a mini fit. Actually the anger would have sucked even more energy from me. Interestingly arriving back to Cork airport at 5am there were still the knock on effects from the day before and my early morning flight was also two hours late. We stood for an hour an a half at the check in desk alone, which can be frustrating in itself. The man behind me in the queue kindly handed me his paper to read when he had finished. The front page story quickly put everything into perspective. A picture of seventeen year old Manuela Riedo who was murdered in Galway was staring back at me. I had missed the story by being away but as I read it through, the horror of it put a different spin entirely on my own petty dilemmas.
The staying calm philosophy can be applied to almost anything. If someone spills a glass of coke at the table and it runs down the leg and onto the floor just remember that shouting and fussing will not make the liquid run back up the leg and into the glass. If the dog chews your favourite shoe no amount of crying will repair the torn leather. If your husband forgets to pick up the dry cleaning and it includes an outfit you need that night, fighting with him will make not make it miraculously appear! If the computer crashes just as you finish a column for the Munster Express and it wasn’t saved, screaming expletives at the machine does not magically fix it. Everyday life is full of small irritants that can easily stress you out. The trick is to remain as calm as you can. Don’t be lazy about how you react, think before you fly off the handle. Calm or agitated you will still have to endure small everyday annoyances and also join the endless time wasting queues that life has to offer, but if you can keep a good attitude at least you will avoid the one in the doctor’s surgery.