Sitting here right now as you are reading these words, how much are you wishing that you could get rid of the stress in your life?
You know how it goes, you come across a friend whom you haven’t seen for a while and they ask how you are and you tell them about your work stress, people stress, family stress and there’s the underlying wish or maybe longing, for the stress to go away.
But does it ever go away?
I talked some weeks ago about the law of conservation of pain, how when two people have differing needs, one of them has to experience pain. The pain is conserved in the system and we have a fantasy that it will go away and it doesn’t.
Out of this concept came the law of conservation of stress.
I have run many stress management workshops and one of my best processes is where I ask people to close their eyes and imagine themselves being between birth and six years of age and to remember what stressed them. And people say: “I didn’t have the toys I wanted and my sister was nasty to me and my dad shouted and I was starting school and it was very scary.”
Then I move on to between 6 and 12 years of age and I ask them to remember what stressed them and it’s doing well in sports, or exams and bullying issues and friendship problems.
And then from 12 to 18 and there’s a great deal of stress around interpersonal relationships and anxieties around sexuality and demanding and controlling parents and not doing well enough at school and not having the fashionable material objects in one’s life.
And then from 18 to 24 it’s about: “What on earth am I going to do with my life?” And all of the anxiety and pressure that that evokes. And it’s discovering how intimate relationships work and don’t work and how difficult they are and it’s dealing with problematic bosses at work and all the stresses involved in starting a new career and money!
So we keep going right up until they can imagine they are 95 and they notice that the stress at every single period of life is there.
It doesn’t go away.
It’s conserved across time.
It just changes form.
The victim position is fighting reality and the more we live in a fantasy the more we are suffering because of the gap between fantasy and reality.
Close the Gap!
Great Mastery and great Self-Esteem is having no gap!
So the more you close the gap the more you are honouring the reality of stress and the fact that it will never go away. When we long for the weekend or for our holiday or for the time when all of the stress will go away it’s just not going to happen because living in a human body means you are going to be stressed.
I have asked multitudes of people if they have often felt better on a Monday morning at work that when they are on holiday and the answer, if they look really closely, is yes! It’s not something we like to admit much, but for most people it’s true.
The most significant thing you can do as regards stress is to drop the fantasy that you are going to get rid of it. Life is stressful and non-stressful and as the song goes, you can’t have one without the other.
The next logical step, if it’s not about getting rid of the stress, is to learn to recover from it faster. The Master of stress is someone who gets stressed and recovers and gets stressed and recovers.
To put it another way, it’s not that you go into the victim position, it’s how quickly and effectively you get out of it.
Stress is going into the fight or flight response. Your ability to move into the opposite which is activating the relaxation that response is the key. The better you can do this, the greater your resilience to stress with all of the positive benefits that accrue to your immune system, your cardiovascular system and generally speaking your entire mind-body system.
There are so many aspects to how we create stress. I want to share just a few with you.
The most important creator and destroyer of stress is the mind. As Shakespeare said: “For nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
We are seriously addicted to the truth of our thoughts, I mean seriously.
You are walking in the bush at night and you come across this shape in front of you and it’s a gorilla and you freeze in terror. And then you switch on your flashlight and you see that it’s a rock and what happens to your anxiety…it dissolves into laughter. So it is the mind’s perceptions of what is happening that creates the stress.
Not only are our perceptions of the world stressful for us but wanting to control the rest of the world is immensely stressful.
Donald Trump is a Good Guy!
You’re having a wonderful cappuccino or a drink with your friend and the reason it’s wonderful is because you are agreeing with each other and supporting each other and listening and caring and being empathic or just simply having fun and then they tell you that they really love Donald Trump and your resistance meter goes through the roof. And you have an argument and it becomes immensely stressful for you simply because you have an expectation that other people, especially your friends, should agree with you that Donald Trump is an idiot.
Believing that our perceptions are right is one of the greatest stressors on the planet and people go to war about this!
Some definitions of stress say that it is about the degree of overload we experience because our capacities are exceeded. Most of us live this way, with too much to do and too little time. However it is the perception – the mind – that creates the idea that we have to complete what needs to be done in the time expected, that we have to keep other people happy, that we have to look good in the eyes of others.
Emergencies That Don’t Exist!
The next really great stressor is that we create emergencies when they don’t actually exist. You get an email that looks like a problem for you and you think you need to respond immediately. Most of the time you don’t but it’s the perception that we have to respond immediately that creates the stress.
We do this with conflict and our ‘to do’ list…we do it endlessly. If you’re an ‘A’ type personality, pushy, driving, perfectionistic, this is going to be a way bigger problem for you.
There is this really funny story about the guy whose very stressed and he goes to see his doctor and he says: “Hey listen Doc I’m incredibly stressed and I need something really, really fast fix it!
I’ve already mentioned how we need to close the gap between fantasy and reality. That gap is very stressful. The problem is our culture encourages fantasy. If somebody is going to be doing something that is in most people’s eyes wonderful or desirable the most common reaction is: “Are you excited?” Our excitement about an upcoming event is seldom matched by reality, which means that an addiction to excitement is mostly going to leave you crashing into deflation or depression. Stressful, yes?
The final reason that I want to discuss here that causes a stress is quite simply first world culture. The cities that we’ve created and the motor vehicles and the traffic jams and the forms of communication – we are endlessly communicating with each other electronically – have made life intrinsically very stressful.
But our tendency to blame the environment can be exaggerated.
I’ve so enjoyed watching the TV programme entitled Life below zero over the last few months. It’s about people living a subsistence existence in brutally cold Alaska. What so amused me was one of the recent episodes where one of the participants in the program got immensely stressed about the fact that this contraption he had spent days making to catch fish in the river, just failed completely.
His stress was created by his perception that he had failed and his resentment at the failure and waste of time. We have a fantasy that everything that we do should work and when it doesn’t, we get stressed. So I’m also saying that you don’t have to be living in a first world, city environment in order to be stressed because you take your mind with you.
I’m Not Good Enough.
My final word on what stresses us is my core Self-Esteem issue, the belief that we are not good enough as we are, before success and approval.
Few people even notice how stressful this is and it infiltrates every single aspect of our lives.
If you wake up in the morning and you’re anxious, a significant portion of your anxiety is about not feeling good enough. If you wake up filled with love on the inside then nothing is a problem. If you are looking to get love through approval and success then I’m afraid you are a wasteland of longing and desperation and that is very, very stressful.
Next week I want to talk about how to fix the problem.
In Love & Power,