What is stress? When you think of the word stress, what comes to mind?
Fear, Anxiety, Anger, Frustration, Overwhelmed, all of the aforementioned?
According to the scientists, stress can be good. Stress can motivate us to take steps forward. We can experience good stress if we’ve got a fantastic trip coming up; We have to make plans for the mail and the pets, but we’re excited and looking forward to our holiday.
But stress that is chronic causes disease or “dis-ease” literally. Stress that is sudden, like a car accident, can dump a load of cortisol into our bodies and it can take days to recover from the hyper amount of cortisol that our bodies seem to need to deal with a sudden situation.
Our stress is exacerbated by our thinking. We all have stress, but how we think about any given situation makes our stress worse. We can have multiple thoughts or viewpoints within an instant. Unfortunately, we think our thoughts are true. They are just thoughts. Haven’t you ever had a thought that was so ridiculous you sort of laughed out loud? Why is that thought funny, when other thoughts are so important? What makes our thoughts feel like absolutes?
Types of thoughts that can heighten stress are feelings of powerlessness about any given situation. Also, “we catastrophize an unknown future.” We worry about what might happen when we cannot know for sure. We can predict, assume or project a situation, but we can’t know absolutely the outcome. We can think thoughts of “should” or “Well I KNOW” but these thoughts are just thoughts. And thoughts have power, but perhaps we give them more power than we should?
When we have thoughts about our stressful situation, we also tend to isolate, not seeking out solutions or other ideas. Whatever your thought is about any given situation, I know that if you asked various people you trust, “I’m thinking this way, do you perhaps have another thought I could consider with regards to this situation?” You would get a multitude of responses. And none of them may be as good as your thought for you and your situation. But you are training your mind to consider other perspectives and you are allowing your mind creative opportunities to look at your life in other ways.
With curiosity and inquiry, we can start examining our long held beliefs without judgement to see if those beliefs still ring true for us. This takes courage. Most people will not do this inquiry because they have tied their identity into certain beliefs and cannot imagine who they would be without those thoughts. They find comfort on some level, albeit stressful comfort, to stay entrenched into their beliefs. And perhaps they’ve never had anyone they could trust, help them examine what the think and how their thinking impacts their life.
Let’s examine the inquiry process. I’ve been deeply impacted for the better with practicing inquiry into my thoughts. I call this a Discipline of Mind. It’s catching and examining the thoughts in order to have a variety of creative solutions. It’s not allowing the mind to take over with fear, doubt and stubbornness. When the mind does take over, there are techniques to strengthen the ability to bring mind back.
Here are some examples I see of stuck thinking:
If I don’t do this job perfectly, I’ll get fired.
If I don’t make the coffee at work, no one else will.
I have to watch the news every day. It’s what makes me a moral person.
I have to volunteer at multiple organizations. It’s what makes me a good person. People expect my participation.
I have to do things for my children so they don’t feel bad. It’s not fair if they feel bad.
If I don’t buy these treats, my family will suffer.
My family member should follow my advice when it comes to their health.
I don’t want to have to eat healthy. I just want to eat what I want when I want.
If I eat something sweet, I’ve been bad.
If I don’t exercise, I can’t lose weight.
I’ll always be this way. I am who I am.
Examining thoughts, like “Why do I think this way?”
Are there other thoughts for this situation?
Do these thoughts support my feelings of overwhelm, frustration and anxiety?
Can I shift? Am I willing to shift?
And whatever your answers are, just be willing to notice them as if you are looking at yourself through a bigger picture lens. Inquire, “Where did I decide that?” Why have I gone along with that?” Inquiry is not to make you wrong, but instead it’s to wake us up to other ideas in any given moment. And through inquiry we can often find that we are not in the moment, but instead projecting into an unknown future, or living in the past based on what happened before and believing it will happen again.
We don’t actually know anything about anything.
Our thoughts often exacerbate our stress. We’re actually giving ourselves more stress by our thoughts and our beliefs, than the situation actually calls for.
So come back to the moment and see if you can allow yourself to feel your needs in this moment. Only this moment.