Perhaps one of the most puzzling and plaguing issues of modern man is trying to define exactly what stress is, why do we get it, and what can be done about it. It has even infiltrated our modern vocabulary:
"I'm feeling so stressed out!"
"He is stressing me out!"
"This job is too stressful!"
You get the picture. When something is not providing us with a peaceful experience, we usually interpret the event as stress-inducing. What is actually happening is that we are merely perceiving that events and circumstances have power over our emotions. As we begin to ruminate on these types of thoughts, feelings automatically arise to support them. Feelings are a great barometer of our thoughts at any given moment.
Our body then responds physiologically with a "fight or flight" response which produces a cascade of physical responses (flushing, dilated pupils, heart rate increases, perspiring, blood pressure increases, cortisol and adrenaline release, accompanied by a strong urge to flee from the situation). This physiological response only serves to cement even further the thinking that a particular event "caused" us to experience these physical responses, so therefore we must remove ourselves from the "source" of stress and blame the events for causing the symptoms.
When these feelings of stress are believed to be coming from our job, our spouse, our children, or our families, this notion can become even more problematic. Our need for a job to sustain us, the love we have for our families, our spouse, and our children can all dramatically complicate our feelings even more. At this point, most of us choose to wall off those feelings, which result in a collection of what can ultimately become a mountain of resentments. This poses even more problems with the person or event that we perceive has caused all of these feelings. This scenario can become the vicious negative feedback loop that we commonly call "stress".
The reality is no person, event, circumstance, or place has the power to cause us stress.
This does not minimize in any way the fact that people, events, and circumstances can be quite impactful in the moment that they occur. The actions of others can be misguided, cruel, and even physically harmful. What happens after any event or situation is what is important. During any threatening event or circumstance, our amazing innate instincts kick in, resulting in instinctual self-preservation. If our life is being eminently threatened, we will take immediate protective action instinctively. Sometimes we can be over-powered by someone and are physically harmed. No matter how horribly we have been treated, the event itself thankfully does not last forever.
Having a perspective about what happens next is the most important part. Once you are at a point of physical safety, the processing of that event can wash over you and take over your thoughts if you allow it. It is important to understand that no matter how horrible an event may have been, it was not something that you deserved and that person who harmed you does not have any power over you now. That event is over and is merely a memory now. It is when you believe that those actions have the power to ruin your life from this point forward, is where long-term and chronic stress can begin.
Either wishing that events in your life did not occur or if you just had a better job, different partner, more obedient children, had a million dollars, or that you could be in a different place would solve all of life's problems, are all very destructive ways of thinking and will not improve your life in any way. You may have moments when things feel better briefly when you obtain the object of your desire, but this pattern of thinking will persist, while new events and actions of others will perpetuate this cycle over and over again with new and possibly more self-destructive desires.
It is the mistaken belief that one's happiness and well being is dependent on outside events
that causes all of our unhappiness in life.
Our life experience is an inside-out experience. It may seem that events outside of us are causing our thoughts and feelings but they are not. Nothing has that power. Your experience of life arises from within you. Your perceptions of what is going on around you is your unique experience of life. When you realize that life is an inside-out process, events in life lose their "power" over you and it becomes much easier to see things as they really are. The most important thing that you can do is to guard your inner self from the misguided perception that life has power to destroy who you are at your very core. It does not.
While everyone is subject to difficulty from time to time throughout our lives, circumstances cannot dictate who you really are. We come into this life hard-wired with resilience to weather storms that may come and go. If we pause for a moment when challenges arise and remain connected to our inner self, we will be better equipped to understand that people's bad behaviors are all about their own experience and not about us at all. This is very empowering and will allow you to rise above any difficult circumstance. You have the power within you to overcome any challenge. It is when you surrender your innate power to the imaginary control of external circumstances over you, that you create suffering and stress within you.
Thought is a powerful force. While thoughts are random associations based on memory and conditioning that we cannot control, they do not have power in and of themselves to take over our lives. Our resilient spirit possesses all the power we need to bridle the attention we give to those thoughts. When unhealthy thoughts are ignored, new thoughts arise very quickly and break the destructive pattern. Merely realizing that a destructive thought pattern is just a thought is often enough to break the cycle.
When we get stuck in thinking that our lives would be better if mode, pay close attention to this pattern and realize that is never the truth. Life is only ever experienced in this very moment. Spending our lives thinking of the past with no hope of changing events that have already occurred and on future scenarios that may never come to pass and are most uncertain, robs us of the only place where life occurs.... the now.