First, let's talk a little bit about what stress is.
Modern life is filled with deadlines, expectations of doing more for less money, paying more for less quality in the products and services that we purchase, ever increasing costs of living that are not in step with our income, increasing crime, escalating threat of war globally, declining health, and so many other concerns. Each of these concerns can add to the existing complexities of daily life that are already present in our personal life, home life, and the workplace. If asked, most people would admit to experiencing “stress” on a regular basis with a profound effect on their relationships, their job, their well-being, and their sleep.
The human body responds physiologically to real or perceived danger in exactly the same way. We are “hard-wired” to react when sensory data entering our brain through the 5 senses, is perceived as fear. This perception of danger, activates the “fight or flight” mechanism. In some scenarios, this adaptation can literally save our life.
However, the body cannot distinguish between direct, imminent attack by a predator (the saber-toothed tiger) or a perceived threat of danger that is generated solely by our thoughts (how am I going to pay the rent this month, what if my boss fires me, will my wife cheat on me when she goes on that business conference, how will I pay for my kids’ college, what will happen to me when I am old, etc).
A few of us may have experienced a rare event in our lifetime, in which our life was actually in danger or we were threatened by someone or something. Some people live in a worn-torn area where this is a more likely occurrence. Most of us have never had our life directly threatened in any way. However, there are many professions where the threat of danger, the need to protect others from real danger, or the need to quickly react to an emergent issue requiring speed and skill, are a daily occurrence (such as: military personnel, policemen, fire-fighters, paramedics, emergency medicine personnel, and many other professions).
We all experience challenges that we can interpret as stress. Thoughts and feelings of danger or fear automatically activates a physiologic cascade of hormones and chemicals within the body, causing involuntary physical reactions that are harmful to our health and well-being if they are frequent. When feelings of stress become chronic, health begins to decline predictably with poor sleep, fatigue, weight gain, development of diabetes, cancers, and many other health problems.
What can I do to manage my stress?
Firstly, simply realize that unless you are being directly attacked or find yourself in a life-threatening situation, it is merely your own thoughts and perceptions that are creating the trigger that is activating the physical and emotional symptoms that you are feeling.
If you do not give further attention to the stressful or fearful thoughts, they will extinquish themselves. Physical symptoms of fear will pass on their own after about 5 minutes, if you do not add further fearful or stressful thoughts to the situation.
Whatever is going on around you (and there is always a LOT going on), simply recognizing that you do not have to identify with external circumstances or react to the “content” of life swirling around you, can allow you space to step back and assess your situation.
Take a couple of deep breaths, exhaling slowly after each breath.
Now, pause to ask yourself…
“Where do I think these feelings are coming from?”
If you think that external circumstances around you are “making” or “causing” you to have stress, these thoughts will set the fight or flight cascade in motion and contaminate your thoughts with fear and worry. Negative thoughts and energy will attract more of the same.
The only way that life really works, is from the inside-out.
"No one can create negativity or stress within you. Only you can do that by virtue of how you process your world." - Wayne Dyer
What this means is that all we are EVER experiencing, is thought in the moment, which generates a feeling attached to it. Feelings are a wonderful barometer, letting us know about our thoughts from moment to moment.
If we focus attention on the negativity around us, react to it, and create even more negative thoughts about those events, the body responds by continuing to fuel the fight-or flight mechanism, generating even more negative thought. This negative feedback loop can keep us in that state of stress for minutes, hours, days, or years, depending on where we allow our thoughts to go.
Once you realize that your reactions and feelings are solely generated by thought in the moment, take a brief pause to carefully choose how to process circumstances around you. If you are in real danger, you won’t have to think about it….you will instinctively get out of harm’s way. This is an inborn protective mechanism.
If you can do something about the issue right away and are safe doing so, you can either a) calmly try to address the situation, b) choose not to react to the negative behavior that has arisen around you by remaining still and accepting what is, or c) you can choose to withdraw yourself quietly, either letting it go or making plans for dealing with the issue later, after developing a plan of action.
If you are facing something that you cannot possibly change at this moment (someone cutting you off in traffic, your boss yelling at you, etc), accept the present moment, without allowing the negative event to dominate your thoughts and feelings. Become the observer of the event, without allowing the behavior of others to harm you. The most important thing is to protect your inner well-being.
Just remember, thoughts are random and constantly changing. The brain never turns off, in the same way that gravity never turns off. Your thoughts will quickly change from one to another, if you do not give the negative thoughts coming at you, any further attention, energy, or focus. In this way, you can begin to observe life and its many forms swirling frenetically around you, without participating.
You can give positive thoughts further attention if you choose to do so. The space between those positive thoughts will allow you to connect you with your deeper self and access the resilience and innate wisdom that is already there within you.
Being IN this world and not OF this world will bring you freedom from stress. The only thing standing in your way is your perception of the world.
Freedom from stress is only a thought away.