Stressed Out at Middle Age–Is It Biography or Biology?

As we progress through middle age, why are so many of us uninspired, lacking energy and stressed out by every mundane challenge of daily living? Is stress primarily a natural physical side effect of aging or is there more to it? What’s making us dread getting up in the morning and robbing us of the stamina and confidence to accomplish personal and career goals that seemed so attainable only a few short years ago?

Based upon recent scientific evidence, here are three somewhat surprising conclusions:

  1. Susceptibility to stress has far less with to do with inherited genes than to personal life experience. Biography is more important than biology!    
  2. Because 97% of our brains are occupied by the subconscious, you and I may not have a clue as to the true cause of our constant stress and fear of the future.
  3. Unfinished business and detrimental beliefs from our past must be understood and addressed before you and I can move on to a brighter tomorrow. 

A guest on my Internet radio program, “Middle Age Can Be Your Best Age,” recently introduced me to the concept of “woundology”,  a term which denotes how a traumatic event or a hurtful experience from the recent or distant past, perhaps young childhood, may have implanted a negative or limiting belief deep in our subconscious mind that is holding us back today. Are you hesitant to make that bold move that could improve your life forever? Years ago did someone or something convince you that you weren’t good enough or that you really didn’t deserve to be happy?

Some may respond that the concept of woundology is pure hogwash! You know darned well why you are so stressed out and hate to get out of bed in the morning–it’s that terrible boss, the workload you despise or the spouse and kids who are driving you crazy! Before you bury the past, stop to reflect for a moment. Are your boss, your workload or the spouse and kids really that bad, or is your stress caused mostly by your reaction to them? In every workplace, whether the boss is great or not so hot, some people succeed and receive hefty bonuses, raises and promotions while others fall behind. In every household, the father or mother, husband or wife, exerts either a positive or negative influence on other members of the family–yes, even the dog! Do you contribute positive or negative vibes?

At work, do you consider yourself a victim, a person who is put upon, given unfair assignments and yelled at every time something goes wrong? Do you lack confidence to take the initiative? Do you cringe every time you are given a new assignment, afraid you will screw up, perhaps even get fired? Does this fear incessantly cross your mind: “If I lose my job at my age, who in the world would hire me?” At home, do you feel like your spouse is taking advantage of you? Do you cringe at the thought of disciplining your teenagers when they talk back to you or ignore your parental instructions?

We all know that occasional stress is a good thing. Certainly, you would want fear to inspire you to action were your house on fire with the children in another bedroom. Unfortunately, persistent, unwarranted stress and worry can be highly counterproductive, robbing you of sleep at night, draining positive energy, placing a chip on your shoulder, blaming others for your unhappiness and making you mighty unpleasant to be around. At its worst, perpetual stress can ruin one’s health, contributing to strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, even cancer.

To move beyond a perpetual state of stress, fear and sorrow, you and I may need to launch a search for painful moments from our past. Most experts warn us not to dwell upon “what might have been” or to dredge up painful memories, but this may be needed to understand why we are so unhappy in the present. The secret is to examine your past as a casual, “third party” observer whose only purpose is to diagnose and treat your symptoms today. You will never win the “war” over your negative emotions until you first identify and fully understand the “enemy.”

Here’s an exercise from my first book A Mid-Life Challenge WAKE UP! which can help you recapture the joy of living and restore positive expectations for the future. Prepare a comprehensive “Negative Inventory” of everything that’s wrong with your life today–anything that makes you sad, uncomfortable, frustrated or fearful of the future–all aspects of your present situation that generate a negative emotion.  Here are a few examples of perceived negatives you might list: where you live, your current job or vocation (or lack thereof), difficult relationships with certain individuals (the boss, family members or others), aspects of yourself (age, appearance, capabilities, education, temperament, lack of confidence), finances or current life circumstances (e.g., poor health, loss of a loved one, marital of family difficulties, absence of close friends, lack of faith, a hectic life style.)

Don’t stop here. Once you have written down every significant unfavorable aspect of today’s life experience, dedicate the time and effort to probe deeply into your past in order to answer the following four questions:

  1. “When did this negative aspect first enter my life?” Attempt to identify the precise month and year when you first noticed and began to feel despondent over this particular circumstance? Did this negative aspect bother you as a child, teenager or young adult or has awareness surfaced only in recent years?
  2. “What were the initial circumstances surrounding the birth of this negative emotion?” If you hate your present job, did you dislike it on the day you first reported for work or have things changed? Do you have a new boss or new job responsibilities? If you don’t like yourself, what observation or commentary first convinced you that you were fat, ugly, lazy, unintelligent or lacking in self-confidence?
  3. “Who is responsible?” Has another person intentionally or unintentionally sought to harm you? Is someone else in some manner holding you back? How? Is the person who harmed you still in your life today? If not, why do you let that individual, dead or long gone from your life, still hurt you today? Warning: it is highly counterproductive in most cases to place blame solely on someone else. Your ex-spouse is not solely to blame for your current bitterness and unease around members of the opposite sex. I”ll bet your boss is not totally responsible for that missed promotion?
  4. “What is my response and is it appropriate going forward?” Precisely how are you responding to each negative aspect of your life today? Are you attempting to fight back and overcome or are you willing to accept as inevitable the unfortunate consequences? How are you coping with the stress of a routinely unfavorable outcome? Do you worry incessantly? Is worry keeping you awake at night? On a more positive note, have you considered actions you can take to reverse, overcome or at least compensate for this negative circumstance in your life?

Dwelling upon life’s negatives may at first appear counter-productive to restoring joy and positive expectations, but it is not. Full knowledge and understanding is an essential first step to solving any problem. The next time you are stressed out, miserable or fearful, you can refer back to your “inventory of negatives.”

In most cases, you will recognize that most negative aspects of your life surfaced long ago and were based upon a personal interaction or circumstance that has absolutely nothing to do with today. Perhaps class bully Johnny Johnson labeled you as “fat and toady” in fifth grade. You haven’t seen Johnny in 38 years, you’ve lost weight recently and anyway appearance doesn’t really matter that much in your world today! Johnny Johnson no longer matters to you, so who cares what he thinks or says, anyway!  So what if your high school basketball coach called you “lazy” and benched you during a big game your senior year! You know in your heart that you were under the weather that day, that you gave your all then and that you continue to give your all today. Anyway, that coach has long since passed away!

Most of us have heard of the natural “Law of Attraction.” It works both ways. If you continue to anticipate, then experience unfavorable results you undoubtedly are predetermining your fate based upon unresolved detrimental beliefs buried in your subconscious mind. Once you learn to recognize these negative expectations for what they are, how they got into your subconscious in the first place, whether they matter at all going forward and if need be how you can overcome or compensate for them, then you can begin programming in positive expectations. First define precisely what you want the future to hold then continually visualize a positive outcome. As time passes, you will begin to attract the positive outcomes into your life that you so richly deserve.

To learn more about subconscious negatives that are holding you back and how to overcome them, tune in to the June 3, 2013 weekly broadcast of my Internet radio program, “Middle Age Can Be Your Best Age” on WebTalkRadio.netYou may discover that most of the stress in your life today is generated by left-over emotions from the distant past and serve absolutely no useful purpose in your life today  


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