Of course, we all want to be happy. We long for serenity, relaxation, and peace. But sometimes there is no way around it – stress consumes us. We all know what it’s like – whole-body tension, endless worrying, anxiety that won’t quit.
You may not be able to wave the magic wand that will make your stress disappear. But you can pay attention. You can welcome in the experience of stress and take the necessary steps to not only cope with it, but transform it. Stress can be your friend, the portal to the richness of the now.
Stress is code for fear. When we are under stress, our primitive brains take over, and the fight or flight reaction rushes through our minds and bodies. But this response was designed for animals in the wild being chased by their predators. In our modern world, the only thing that is really chasing us is our stress-filled thoughts and the accompanying feeling of overwhelm.
For some people, a small amount of stress increases productivity. But for most of us, stress detracts from our quality of life and well-being. It affects us physically, mentally, and emotionally. Don’t take your stress for granted. Recognize it, let it in, then consciously take the steps to restore yourself to your natural state of ease.
Remember that in any moment, you are at a crossroads: you can connect with yourself and pay attention or you can sustain suffering.
Start here to address what you can control. Is there something you can let go of? Can you do less? Can you change something about the situation so it is not so stressful for you?
It won’t be news to hear that stress has a physical component. When adrenaline courses through your system, you feel tense, jittery, and hyper-alert. Spinning thoughts, which are common with stress, add to the intensity of the physical sensations. Work on the thoughts (see below), and relax around the sensations. Then take care of yourself with the following:
- Deep breathing. Exhale out all the air, then fill your lungs from the bottom to the top to a count of 4 our 5. Then exhale to a count of 4 or 5. Repeat 5 times. Just one breath can re-orient you out of unconsciousness and into clarity and aliveness.
- Take a walk outside, and appreciate your environment with all five senses.
- Listen to soothing music
- Take a break
- Do anything soothing and enjoyable. What would that be for you?
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
Stressful thoughts are driven by fear. Simply said, they aren’t true. They distort reality and create a negative and worrisome picture of the future. They seduce us into trying to control what we cannot control, to know what we cannot know.
Recognize these thoughts, and tell yourself that they aren’t true and they don’t serve. Here are some examples:
- Magnify the negative. Stressful thoughts focus only on the negative and trick you into expecting the worst.
- Black and white thinking. You view yourself as either perfect or terrible. You either succeed or fail, with no gray area.
- Jumping to conclusions. You assume you know how something will turn out when you really don’t know.
- Catastrophizing. Making things seem worse than they are.
Stressful thoughts need to be challenged and seen from the perspective of actual truth. You will find that they are neither true nor useful. And if they aren’t true or useful, why feed them?
Instead, tell yourself it’s OK. Say, “This too shall pass.” Recognize the fear that is driving them. And put your energy and attention on that which is more uplifting, supportive, and life-affirming. Check out Byron Katie’s The Work for more.
If you take one point from this post, let it be this: Be kind to yourself. Whether you are anxious, scared, or irritable, let your feelings be. Bring compassion and acceptance to them. Be aware of what you would like to hear from someone else, and soothe yourself with those same words.
If you fight with your feelings, you will only add more stress to an already stressful situation. Let go of judging and be kind. Don’t resist or recoil. Your feelings are knocking on the door, so welcome them in. You will see a paradox: what you resist persists, and welcoming your feelings de-energizes them. Get support from a friend, family member, or professional.
Yes, you may be stressed, but are you also grateful? Recognize what is working, what is positive. Let people who you love know it, and let theirs wash over you. Think about your strengths and resources, and bring them to bear on whatever you are dealing with. Give up the fight and let yourself flow with what is happening. Stand in the space of being the naturally resilient creature that you are.
If you are feeling stressed, don’t accept it as the status quo. Really, it’s no way to live. Control what you can, and accept the rest. Bring kindness to every aspect of your experience. Then go forth, and enjoy yourself.
What have you learned about coping with stress? I’d love to hear…