One of my co-workers came back from his annual physical, looked at me in dismay and confessed, “I have high blood pressure. I’m stressed out at 24.”
Stress. It’s a national epidemic. It’s an American way of life.
“You have to root out the causes,” I told this young, uptight, overwrought fellow. “It could be many things. The job. Your search for true love. Living in New York City. Too many Starbucks. Or maybe it’s your generation. You Millennials worry a lot.”
The Millennials, the 78 million young people from 16 to 35, used to be such a carefree, optimistic generation but they have many reasons to be stressed. There aren’t enough jobs. They’re oppressed by college loans. And to top it off, they have to pay for the Baby Boomers’ Social Security, and they can’t afford to move out of their parents’ homes.
His doctor suggested that he get one of those portable sphygmomanometers to check blood pressure, but he couldn’t even pronounce the word, much less figure out how it worked, so I advised him to buy a “mood ring.”
“What’s that?” he asked. (Don’t these kids know anything?) Mood rings, which were a big hit during the ’70s, changed colors with your body temperature. If the ring was violet, you were very happy; blue, you were relaxed; green meant you were feeling no stress; gray was anxious and nervous. My favorite color, however, was black, which meant I was tense, harassed and overworked. I threw the ring away because it was causing too much stress.
In my best doctor impersonation, I said, “You should exercise. Cut your salt intake. Breathe into a paper bag. Meditate. And get a dog or cat you can confide in.”
The next day, he was in the kitchen, getting hot water, and I asked, “What’s that you’re drinking?” He handed me a box of Yogi tea. It was a special herbal formula guaranteed to ease tension and promote relaxation. “Are you taking courses in transcendental meditation, too?”
“No, but I might try yoga,” he said. The box had directions for how to do a position called something like “sleeping dragon.”
Then, I told him a secret, the simplest secret imaginable that could change his life. It was the answer to all his problems. It was a profound secret to happiness that I saw on a bumper sticker and never forgot, although I struggle to practice it.
The secret is this: “No Jesus, no peace. Know Jesus, know peace.”
I proceeded to share my stress-reduction plan, which he wasn’t prepared to hear because many young people resist the idea that Jesus can be the solution to their problems – all their problems. They think the answer lies in a girlfriend or boyfriend, a good job, more friends or popularity.
Many of them are also afraid to trust Jesus because they think the commitment will be too great – that they’ll have to go to the monastery, enter the seminary and give up their cell phones, not to mention their Starbucks gift cards. That’s a lot of foolish anxiety.
Jesus takes you where you’re at and leads you along at his pace to where you should be. Maybe my stress-reduction program – actually, it’s Jesus’ stress reduction program – was too ambitious for him, but I laid it out anyway.
“Let me confess that I can talk the talk, but I can’t always walk the walk,” I said, “so don’t look to me as a power of example because I struggle to do a lot of these things myself.”
The program is a simple one that will work for everyone, from Millennials to Generation-X and Baby Boomers:
• Give Jesus some quiet time every morning and every night, while you’re in bed and there are no distractions.
• Turn off the cell phone and don’t sleep with it on your pillow.
• Say a few prayers and ask for help, because as soon as you ask, Jesus is there, responding. You’ll never have anyone else so concerned, so eager to help and so committed to you. He understands your problems even before you ask for help.
• Try to go to eucharistic adoration. My friend wasn’t prepared to hear that, but as long as I planted the seed, I would leave the rest to the Holy Spirit.
• Let go and let God. (Easier said than done, but you have to at least try because the more you try, the easier it will become.)
• Every moment of the day, as often as possible, as soon as a crisis occurs, as soon as you feel your serenity going to shreds, say, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
• Expect turmoil in your life. It’s part of the human experience. Just learn to deal with it by asking for Christ’s help.
• Rather resorting to other remedies, go to Jesus first ... and then have a cup of Yogi tea.
Jesus knows everything about stress-reduction, and he offers a peace the world cannot give, a peace that’s more effective than therapy, medication, transcendental meditation and yoga.
“Peace I leave you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives,” he said. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.