Aspects of Well-being, Part 5

Stress.

The word alone can cause, well, a stress reaction for folks.

I’m not going to tell you 10 ways to eliminate stress from your life, or how this simple method will help you…whatever. The reality is, stress happens. What matters is how you deal with that stress – both when it’s happening and in between bouts.

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
– Epictetus

I’ve used this quote before, and I interject it here because it says what I want to say – just more succinct (as a good stoic quote should). When stressors happen, the effect they have on you can be mitigated by one primary force…you.

If you freak out and run around like your hair is on fire, you’re succumbing to the stress and it’s having it’s way with your hormone levels.

If, on the other hand, you take a step back, take a deep breath or two and look at your situation from a fresh perspective – well now who’s in charge?

This second option, along with keeping the stress hormones at bay, has several things going for it. First, the act of pausing means you aren’t jumping in and acting without thought. Stress messes with your thinking, meaning your first knee-jerk reaction is likely NOT the best idea you’ll have all day.

Second, taking a couple of deep, intentional breaths does a couple of things to your benefit. The breaths slow your heartbeat, which was likely elevated as a result of your body’s fight or flight response to the initial stressor. They also serve to refocus your energy onto your breathing and off of the source of stress. This will lessen it’s impact on other processes going on, like your ability to think clearly.

And the last act in this three part drama is taking a fresh perspective on your situation. This allows you to see what’s going on as though it was happening to someone else, not you. By doing so, you can adopt a healthier view of things and ideally see a way through the stress induced (and inducing) fog.

Taking a look at your situation from a new perspective is not, in reality, the easiest task. It requires you to remove yourself from what’s going on, to see the stressor as a discrete thing happening ‘over there.’ Another way to think of this is that you’re using your innate empathy – on yourself.

When you’re talking to someone else and their story causes your empathetic response to kick in, you take on their emotions and feelings. You begin to truly FEEL what they’re feeling. When you turn this on yourself, you can begin to FEEL how you’re feeling in the same way you do for that other person.

This in turn aids in seeing your situation as an outsider – an interested third party.

In summary, stress happens. It’s how you respond to it that will determine whether you sink under the weight or swim off to a new solution. OK, that was a bit strained but you get my point. Take a moment the next time you feel a stress response starting, take a couple of breaths and see if you can shift your perspective.

I promise you just might see things more clearly.