Welcome to the year 2020!

We’re 20 years removed from Y2K (remember all that fear and the millions, or even billions of dollars people pocketed off that hoax). Luckily, nothing catastrophic occurred Jan. 1, 2000, which enabled us to now be totally consumed by all things digital.

I sometimes wonder, on some levels, if our world might be a better place if all our computers were fried 20 years ago, never to reboot again.

I enjoy and make use of many technological advances made in the last century, but all such advancements have negative consequences, as well.

Think of the number of lives lost in auto accidents. What if we still got around in a horse and buggy?

Think of the billions of dollars spent on the global warming scare. What if we all still lived in caves and had to catch, trap, or otherwise kill our supper?

Think about the young people who believe having a cell phone will get them out of any trouble in which they find themselves.

Think about the drivers who believe all they will ever need is Google maps.

What’s going to happen when some major cyber-hacking event occurs and humankind has to face life for a long period of time without the use of smart phones or computers? Will people remember how to communicate the old fashion way? Will they be able to function without it, or will everyone just spontaneously combust?

Look at Cedar Bayou and the millions that have been spent trying to make it what it was before the Ixtoc oil spill in 1979, when it was plugged due to contamination fears.

Think about New Orleans and the Mississippi River and all the things put in place to protect man and commerce, which have had serious consequences through the years (think Hurricane Katrina).

God did a pretty good job making the earth, and mankind has done its part to screw it up.

I wasn’t around several generations ago, but from what I understand, there is a lot more stress these days. That stress can come from marriages or other relationships, jobs, concerns about money, aging, or any number of things.

I can remember being really stressed at different times in my life.

Like the time I ended up in Brenham in a newspaper job after college instead of on Madison Avenue in my “dream” job, or at many points while raising our kids, thinking about paying for college, or even now wondering if we will have enough money to live comfortably whenever the day comes to retire.

I have to admit, however, after a couple of months post-Harvey, stress in general has left me.

“It is what it is” is my mantra nowadays. I just try to do the next thing right, and if I screw up, so be it. I make amends, and do my best to correct the mistake(s), and move on. The Earth is going to keep rotating regardless of my state of mind.

It also helps to remind myself I’ve experienced a lot of highs and lows in my life, just like everyone else, and I’ve survived them all, so far, so there’s no reason to fear I’m not going to survive the next peak or valley.

If one experiences a lot of stress, he or she might consider some of the following tips, provided by WedMD, about how to stop stress.

How you handle stress makes a big difference in how you feel. Try using these calming strategies to stop stress ASAP (my response in italics):

• Break out the bubble gum - Next time you’re at the end of your rope, unwrap a stick of gum. According to studies, chewing gum lowers anxiety and eases stress. Some researchers think the rhythmic act of chewing may improve blood flow to your brain, while others believe the smell and taste help you relax.

I’m not a gum chewer, but if my memory is correct, I don’t remember being under a lot of stress as a kid … and I chewed a lot of gum back then.

• Get outside - Spending time outdoors, even close to home, is linked to better well-being. You’re in a natural setting, and you’re usually doing something active, like walking or hiking. Even a few minutes can make a difference in how you feel.

We have no excuse for not taking advantage of this living where we live!

• Smile like you mean it - Don’t roll your eyes the next time someone advises you to “grin and bear it.”  In times of tension, keeping a smile on your face - especially a genuine smile that’s formed by the muscles around your eyes as well as your mouth - reduces your body’s stress responses, even if you don’t feel happy. Smiling also helps lower heart rates faster once your stressful situation ends.

This reminds me of one person asking another person, “Are you happy?” The other person responds, “Yes.” The first person then says, “Well, you might want to tell your face!”

• Sniff some lavender - Certain scents like lavender may soothe. In one study, nurses who pinned small vials of lavender oil to their clothes felt their stress ease, while nurses who didn’t felt more stressed. Lavender may intensify the effect of some painkillers and anti-anxiety medications, so if you’re taking either, check with your doctor before use.

This is why I feel like I want to fall asleep every time I go into Bath & Body Works.

• Tune in - Heading into a stressful situation? Music can help you calm down. In one study, people had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol when they listened to a recording of Latin choral music before doing something stressful (try Miserere by Gregorio Allegri), than when they listened to a recording of rippling water.

I feel no stress playing in a poker tournament when I’m listening to my music.

• Reboot your breath - Feeling less stressed is as close as your next breath. Focusing on your breath curbs your body’s “fight or flight” reaction to pressure or fear, and it pulls your attention away from negative thoughts. Sit comfortably in a quiet place. Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting your chest and lower belly rise and your abdomen expand. Breathe out just as slowly, repeating a word or phrase that helps you relax. To reap the most benefit, repeat for at least 10 minutes.

Isn’t that called meditation?

• Be kind to yourself - We all have a constant stream of thoughts running through our heads, and sometimes what we tell ourselves isn’t so nice. Staying positive and using compassionate self-talk will help you calm down and get a better grip on the situation. Talk to yourself in the same gentle, encouraging way you’d help a friend in need. “Everything will be OK,” for instance, or “I’ll figure out how to handle this.”

I don’t usually have a problem with this, but do admit it feels great when someone says something nice to me.

• Write your stress away - Jotting down your thoughts can be a great emotional outlet. Once they’re on paper, you can start working out a plan to resolve them. It doesn’t matter whether you prefer pen and notebook, a phone app, or a file on your laptop. The important thing is that you’re honest about your feelings.

I do this once a week … it’s called a weekly column.

• Tell a friend - When you’re feeling overwhelmed, seek out the company of a friend or loved one. Have a friend who’s dealing with the same worries as you? That’s even more reason to open up. You’ll both feel less alone.

This is a good one. If a spouse or family member isn’t one you can openly talk with about any subject, then you better find a friend who can. From what I’ve observed, the most grounded people are those who have at least one close friend (outside of marriage if one is married) with whom they can discuss anything.

• Get moving - When you work up a sweat, you improve your mood, clear your head, and take a break from whatever is stressing you out. Whether you like a long walk or an intense workout at the gym, you’ll feel uplifted afterward.

Being a lazy bum on the couch isn’t good for your mental health. However, being a lazy bum on the couch several weekends each year is very helpful (said Dr. Probst!).

Okay, enough of the WebMD stress relief advice. I hope one of your New Year’s resolutions is to have less stress in your life.

Here’s a closing thought from a Facebook post:

First, make a list of things that make you happy, then, make a list of things you do every day.

Now, compare the lists.

Adjust accordingly.

Have a Happy New Year!

Until next week, have a good week.

Mike Probst can be reached at publisher@rockportpilot.com.

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