In light of the holidays and the inevitable stress they bring I wanted to write a bit about how one manages stress and cultivates patience within situations. Ideally I wanted to post this prior to Christmas, because I imagined it is something that could have been helpful. There was only one problem…I didn’t feel stressed. I was a little tired but not stressed. Intellectually I knew what stress felt like, I know the symptoms and I am pretty familiar with how they manifest within me, but every time I sat down to write about how I was dealing with it it felt flat. The whole thing was pretty interesting. Sometimes the brain forgets painful times so that we don’t live in constant fear of them I suspect. So I waited for stress, saturated myself in it, and decided to publish after I figured out what to do with it. So here I am post holiday, to speak to you a bit about the most helpful method of stress reduction I encountered when approaching times that are outside the comfort zone.
Stress is simply put, your body’s response to events which make your feel threatened. This can be a physical threat like a tiger standing in your living room or a car almost smashing your while you ride your bike. Or it can be something perceived to be threatening, such as walking into a new job where you do not know anyone, or perhaps having house guests. The body then begins to release hormones called cortisol and adrenaline. These cause several very neat things to begin to happen in your body. Your heart rates will increase, muscles to tighten, blood pressure rises, breathing speeds and your senses to become sharper. All of this occurs in order to prepare for your to fight the threat or run from it. It basically turns you into a super hero for a few minutes. This is not a response we are looking to turn off, it is something that keeps your out of danger. However the after effect of these hormones, especially if we have this reaction several times a day for a few years can wreck havoc on the body and mind. So what we often seek to do is find a way to “deal”. We seek to either dampen then sensations or burn off the excess energy we are left with.
There are a million and a half ways suggested to manage stress. From keeping a journal of what triggers your stress, to eating a few xanex, to going for jogs, everyone has their own thing. A quick Google search shows me that people are seeking for anyway to make this feeling stop. There are hundreds of self help articles and dozens of medications associated with this topic. I am not here to suggest a permanent solution. I have methods of trying to make the feelings associated with stress productive. Most of the ways I deal surround my meditation practice and exercise routine, but they are far from perfect. I still become anxious, I grind my teeth, body language becomes closed off, and my voice gets this weird tightness to it. That is not a fun person to be around and more than that it is not a fun person to be. So what can you do aside from deep breathing and a few hundred push-ups?
This holiday I resolved to try on a new philosophy. I could not change what was going to happen, and once the brain perceives a threat I cannot effectively stop the chemical process, but I could change how I was thinking. And through the shift in gears of though I was seeking to interrupt the spiral of anxiety which follows a stress reaction. I figured there were going to be times I was going to feel pressure and outside of my comfort zone, so when those situations happened instead of pulling inward and beginning to analyze what would happen if I tried to learn something? Learning is one of my great loves and a wonderful source of motivation for me. It was a neat thought. What would happen if in the times I felt most uncomfortable I immediately began to look for opportunity to learn something I did not know. What occurred for me was a shift almost immediately. When I felt myself disconnect from a conversation I would mentally say the word “Opportunity” to myself. So before the closed off body language even began to happen I had already found something that reengaged my attention. So rather than letting your eyes glaze over when your racist Aunt Betty begins a diatribe, turn toward her and really listen. Listen for neat words she uses, listen to the tone, ponder what experiences occurred that helped shaped that view. Most people speak because they want their perspectives validated by other people. You do not have the validate behavior or perspectives you do not agree with, but there is a wonderful power in listening. It demonstrates a respect of the moment. If you look for opportunities you suspend the judgement of that person and begin to engage like a human being. And that is the real purpose of this activity, not to find a magic way to deal, but to begin to engage with others like a human being even when the situation or conversation is not ideal. Because when you think about it, when is a situation ideal? There are no perfect moments, and rarely does someone us up for an easy lay up. So rather than waiting for a perfect moment in which we will suddenly become a perfectly balanced being, we put some effort into making the moments we do have pretty rad.
What then is the takeaway from all of this? What came to my mind was that this seeking opportunities mindset was beneficial even outside of the situations which i felt uncomfortable, it could be used to make moments which were good even better. I began to think about my Co-creation of relationships idea, and how most of that was focused on conversations to be had in quiet moments, in a controlled environment. As I reflected on the times over the holidays I had engaged in a conversation or situation I was not fully bought into, I thought that I wanted to approach pleasant conversations and little adventures with my partner with the same intensity. I want to actively listen to him with the same compassion and lack of judgement. Here is a fantastic person who I want to spend all of my time with and who better to really focus the lessons of opportunities on? And I think that is a pretty neat realization to come out of a week I was positively dreading.