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August 13, 2011

Passing the stress test

One of the many rituals that we middle-aged and older folks go through is the so-called "stress test." The way our heart deals with that test, which involves an 8- to 12-minute treadmill journey and stick-on sensors connecting our body with all kinds of monitors, determines a doctor's assessment of our overall physical condition. Sometimes, it takes two days, including a second day of just monitoring the body, with more stick-ons, after a 24-hour period of normal activity. And in my case recently, it was two months between the actual stress test and the follow-up appointment with my doctor when we were to discuss the results of my stress test.

Gee — you don't think waiting two months to find out my stress test results could possibly cause any stress that wasn't originally present inside me, do you? Anyway, it's always a happy moment when one can say, "I passed the stress test!"

It's also sad and ironic how many stress-test failures there have really been through the years. Not just the human heart, but many other great tragedies we have witnessed, including bridge failures, hotel second-story interior walkways collapsing, and whole communities losing hundreds of buildings and lives via a tornado or hurricane, not to mention floods, earthquakes and tsunamis. And we will never forget the greatest stress-test failure this country has ever known: the 9/11 collapse of the World Trade Center's twin towers.

But there is no greater tragedy in this world than when human beings in their daily lives fail, not just the test of the heart, but also the stress test of emotional, mental and spiritual wellness. We often collapse under the weight and stress of our own hurt, as well as heart. So, how do we deal with the stress tests of life? I think we begin, first of all, by examining closely our own basic attitudes toward life. Some of us are hindered by a negative attitude toward life itself or toward other people or toward ourselves. I've often pondered the story of the middle-aged man who was seeing his mother off at an airport. She was going to visit some old friends. "Have a good time, Mother," the man said. To which Mother replied, "Now, John, you know perfectly well that I never enjoy having a good time!" Some of us know people like that who never enjoy having a good time. Many of us are often much more content worrying or endlessly hovering or micromanaging than just trying to constructively cope.

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