Stress…Some Thoughts

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This image was taken at the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence Italy for the tomb of Michelangelo. A disheartened personification of Sculpture shows a saddened expression at the passing.

Stress seems to be prevalent in today’s day and age and creeps up on my in subtle ways whether it be at work, at home, at the gym, or the ever stressful commute.  We are all familiar with the creeping dread, the feeling of not having enough time to complete something, the feedback the body gives as a response.  Perhaps exhaustion, bursts of anger, despondence.  Everyone seems to have a different response.

Stress for me comes quietly and voices its displeasure through me turning inward.  Shutting people out by thinking that I’ll be better able to handle this by myself. It took a long time (and continues to be a work in progress) to realize that the stress created were really my own response to situations.  My own inner dialogue commenting and categorizing how I should feel about certain situations.  Stressors exist in the world and some we can and cannot control however what we can control is the way we think and feel about these stressors and what we do with those thoughts.

The realization of my own stress began to materialize as I started on this path through mindfulness, Buddhism, and learning to be comfortable with myself. The first book I picked up by Pema Chodron called The Places That Scare You quickly made me realize that deep inside I was scared.  Scared of life, scared of not being in control, scared of opening up to anyone for fear of being hurt. Having that as a base only allows the stress to circulate in a somewhat open environment. A stressor arises … habitually relate to fear based thinking … respond accordingly and allow the stress to overwhelm.

“If you don’t know the nature of fear, then you can never be fearless.”   – Pema Chodron

It can seem overwhelming.

Yet, there is always a choice.  And in that choice we can either open up to the feelings we have and the fears inside us or we can continue to allow these fears to direct our thoughts and let stress continue to affect it the way it does.

The learning took time.  What helped?

Meditation: Of all of the habits I picked up this has led to some of the most important changes in my life. A year and a half of daily meditation and I can recognize the emotions within myself as they arise. No longer am stuck within the emotion or the feelings of stress.  The stress hits and the recognition that “this is just another feeling or thought” quickly enters my brain. Now does it go away right away? Not always.  Sometimes the mind is stubborn but the minute that realization happens the grip loosens.

The Gym: I’ve been blessed with the love of the gym.  I enjoy going to the gym day in and day out.  The feeling of setting goals, tracking progress, working hard, and seeing goals appeals to me and the gym has always encompassed that in a microcosm for me.  Not being a science expert I won’t begin to quote it. Working out has been a stable aspect of my life now for almost 15 years and absolutely been critical for me to being able deal with stress.

Breathing: This is something relatively new to me and since meditation has become an important aspect in dealing with difficult and stressful situations. The idea of focusing on the breath as it moves in and out of our body works. The voice quiets as you realize what the body is doing and you can internally watch the breath enter the body and watch it leave.  A quick response to stressful situations is breathing exercises.  Counting to ten is a recommended practice. Each cycling of breathing in and breathing out being one rep.  Personally I find it more effective to focus one breath at a time and repeating that over and over. The racing mind of mine likes to detour when I start counting to ten.  Therefore one allows me to reset each breath and start over. I liken it to how i like to deadlift. Lift. Reset. Lift.

Opening Up: If you had asked me when I started down this path that opening up would relieve stress I would have laughed and thought to myself it is ridiculous. Now this differs amongst people but truly opening up to people has helped me open a lot of doors inside myself that normally would remain closed. That in itself is an exercise in relief. No longer holding these things in and therefore having to ruminate over them. An added benefit is that you begin to connect more deeply with people; something that has has always been a challenge for me.

Reading: Lastly reading and studying the books and stories about the topic have been extremely beneficial. A goal of mine has been to have a book on mindfulness, meditation, or Buddhism always on the go. It helps me in my day-to-day practice and allows me to connect to the stories on a regular basis.  That closeness helps remind me of where I’ve come from and the path I’m on.

A few thoughts on stress and perhaps some helpful strategies that I have found most effective. At the end of the day it’s really how we choose to look at the stress and respond to it. The strategies above have helped me find ways to see how the stresses have impacted my life and created new pathways and habits in my mind to deal with them.

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