Dealing with the issues in the world today, which translate into life issues for most people, can propel us into high levels of stress. Every day there seems to be something new and crazy-making on the horizon. I understand from talking and listening to people, how many feel the negative effects of the stress they carry. It does not look like the world situation is going to improve any time soon, so it is wise to cultivate coping skills that can help us through the hard times, and keep us in a state of peace.
It is necessary to recognize that we create stress internally. We tend to blame stress on outward circumstances, which do set us up for either fight or flight, or for presence and peace, but that’s just the outer experience. It’s not the external events of life that are stressful, but how we hold the events. You and I could be involved in the same set of circumstances, and both react differently. For some, divorce is stressful, for others it’s a relief. A job change could create extreme stress for one person and be exciting for the other. It’s all a matter of perception. How I hold what’s happening, can exhilarate me or exhaust me.
Lifes’ events are wearying when we carry negative perceptions, lack of flexibility, unwillingness to forgive and let stuff go, resistance of any kind, having a “helper” or “need to fix it” mentality, and high expectations for self and others. These are all determinant factors for stress, and most people live with at least one or more of these factors on a daily basis. It’s no wonder we’re stressed, and in a state of dis-ease. For me, high expectations are a biggie because I seem to want to do more than is possible on any given day. I have to constantly remind myself to just go slow, and be okay with whatever gets done, or in many cases, does not get done.
Living under extreme, constant pressure affects us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It’s important to recognize when we’re stressed, and take steps to combat it. A popular held belief, is if something is stressing you, stop doing it, or change it. and you won’t be stressed. What I’ve found, is when the above determinant factors are present in our lives, changing the situation and reducing the stress is a temporary fix. Not dealing with the true cause of stress, which is internal, is like a firefighter directing all of the water at the smoke while ignoring the flames underneath.
So, how do we reduce stress? We start by identifying the cause(s). Here, is a checklist of a few internal determinant factors.
1. Negative perception habits– These are habits that are cultivated over a lifetime. A few telltale signs are: looking at life on the gloomy side, seeing the bad in most things and people (instead of the good), expecting people and life to be disappointing, and/or holding little hope for something better. Since these are habits, they can be changed.
2. Lack of flexibility–Being rigid and not willing to bend. If we do not have the ability to bend, a strong wind can easily break us. Being stuck in belief patterns and systems can create a lack of flexibility. Sometimes we need to move on from outdated systems and change outdated beliefs.
3. Unwillingness to forgive and let go–Forgiveness is a gift for the forgiver. Isabelle Holland says, “As long as you don’t forgive, who and whatever it is will occupy rent-free space in your mind.” It takes a lot of energy to hold on to resentment and anger, and it eventually takes a toll on a persons’ life. Forgiveness sets us free to go on about life in a clear, uncluttered manner.
4. Resistance–To resist means to stand against. Most of the time resistance is a daunting task, and resisting life is like trying to plug a hole in a dam with one finger. Life happens, and it is far less stressful to accept whatever is, take a deep breath, and be at peace. Acceptance is not the same as approval. To accept “what is” does not necessarily mean we like what’s happening; it just means we are willing to accept it and be okay with it. The opposite of resistance is surrender, and when we give up and let go we open the door for rich, exquisite peace to flood our being.
5. Need for control–This is a first cousin to resistance. The difference is, with control, we not only stand against, but we spend a lot of time and energy trying to change things into what we think they should be. When we can’t get people to be who we want , or change events that we don’t like, we get angry and stressed. Control is anathema for relationships.
6. Helper or fix-it mentality–This is when we have the need to fix everybody who is considered broken. If someone has a problem, we want to jump in and fix it. Our esteem depends on how much we can fix and how many we can help. This takes others power away, and it sends the message that we’re the answer instead of them having their own answers within.
7. High expectations of self and others–We over book, over commit, say yes when we mean no, and put too much on our plate. Feeling like Superman, leaping tall buildings in a single bound, serves to make us feel bigger and better, but inside, we know how we truly feel. Putting expectations on others, that they cannot and perhaps don’t want to meet, heaps stress on our backs.
We can tell we’re stressed if we’re listening to our body, our feelings, our spirit, and our relationships. Our neck, shoulders, and/or stomach feel like they’re tied in a knot because we tighten our muscles, our moods are unpredictable and we can go from high to low in a matter of minutes, peace and contentment are as elusive as a butterfly, apathy and cynicism become our closest friends, and we’re irritable in our relationships.
We do have the ability to lower our stress. It’s up to individuals to develop the coping skills needed to live a quiet, peaceful life. That doesn’t mean we have to give up goals and move to a cave somewhere. What it does mean is if we have the internal tools we need, we can handle life externally without flying off the handle or going to pieces. Next week we’ll look at a few de-stressors that we can use to assist us as we make our way into a state of ease.