Inside Stress

by admin on Thursday 22nd July 2010

“Am I Stressed or is Everyone Just Unreasonable?”

There are two distinct ‘facets’ of managing stress. There is what goes on ‘outside of me’ – which can include many different situations or relationships that seem to cause me stress. Then there is all of what goes on ‘inside of me’ – which I experience as stress – mentally, physically and emotionally. And to really make a difference we need to attend to both.

If we don’t pay attention to both, what tends to happen is that we either feel a ‘victim’ of all the problems going on around us and can easily get into blaming external factors, or other people, without recognising what we can change on the inside. Or we focus more on how uncomfortable or ‘bad’ we feel inside and don’t recognise the opportunities to change things on the outside. Both of these are disempowering and can lead to a greater build up of stress over time.

A more empowered state is to recognise that we can’t be totally free of stress in our lives at all. After all, stress is only the reaction we have to the pressures and demands of our everyday activities…and if we tried to remove all those pressures and demands… then we would hardly be living! So instead of just wishing we could take the stress away, and we actually recognise stress as an inevitable, natural and indeed useful aspect of daily living, we can begin to open up a whole new approach to ‘managing and experiencing stress’. This approach is more ‘real’, more sustainable and in fact much more healthy for the mind and body.

It reminds me of the notion that it’s easy to find ‘enlightenment’ when meditating on a mountain top, but far more difficult to maintain that enlightenment when surrounded by all the demands of work, travelling, domestic life, children, family relationships and so on. We might think it would be easy to become ‘stress free’ if we got away from all the pressures…but not necessarily true. What seems to really matter is our ability to keep on top of it all when immersed in the daily experience of living.

The first step to knowing how to manage stress in this more ‘conscious’ and enlightened way, is to understand how the mind and body have a natural, unconscious, automatic process for recovering from stress – without you having to actually ‘do’ anything about it. The second step is to ‘tune in’ to this recovery process and discover where in your own experience this natural process gets ‘blocked’ or ‘inhibited’. These ‘blocks’ result in a build up of ‘unreleased’ stress (or ‘distress’) over time – which disturbs your sense of well-being and causes long term damage to the health of your body.

The third step is to take action to change some of your day-to-day habitual behaviours and ways of thinking, which will enable you to improve both your recovery process and reduce or eliminate some of the causes of your stress.

The recovery process itself includes a triggering recognition or awareness that stress of some sort is building up, followed by the release of emotional and physical tension from the body. But that’s not as far as it goes…after that you need to be able to ‘reconnect’ with a positive view of life so that you can more easily follow through on what you are motivated to do next, by generating appropriate goals and plans. The goals and expectations need to be consistent with what feels right for you – rather than just responding to the demands of others. And when you are engaged in taking action to achieve your goals…you need to be mindful and aware of when stress starts to build up again…so that you can notice when it’s time to take a break or do something different.

By exploring all of these areas of the recovery process in relation to your own experience, and making sure that each stage flows easily into the next, you can smooth the way and ensure that you maintain a healthy balance of stress and de-stress.

So for example, some people recognise that stress and tension is building up inside – perhaps they feel angry or frustrated – and they find it difficult to release the emotional tension which prevents them from physically relaxing at the end of the day. Things churn around in the mind, perhaps keeping them awake at night. They need to find a technique to release the emotional stress in an appropriate way without making the situation worse. Or others may find that they are rushing around doing stuff for everyone else and they don’t have time to catch up on what they want to do for themselves. They need to find a way to negotiate priorities with themselves and others.

There are many different ways that people get ‘stuck’ and once the block is identified and understood, it becomes much easier to find solutions that will make a big difference very quickly.

So any effective stress management strategy needs to include the ‘inside factors’ (self-awareness, releasing emotional and physical tension, finding a more positive and motivated state of mind) and the ‘outside factors’ (identifying appropriate goals, creating workable plans, negotiating priorities and taking positive action to achieve successful outcomes). If any of these are missing or incomplete, then there is a block to fully recovering from stress, maintaining your mental and physical well-being and fulfilling your true potential.

Peter Jefford

July 2010

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