There has been so much written about Stress Management over the past 3 decades, with excellent approaches and techniques for dealing with stress. I have tried many of them with varying results. However, none seem to me to ever adequately address the concept of stress in a complete and truly effective manner. They all feel like band aids. Below I will discuss 2 approaches, then share a new approach I am taking, which seems to be working very well! I welcome your feedback!
Approach 1: Change your Expectations
One of the approaches I tried, which worked quite well for a while, was to define stress as the difference between my expectations and my reality. The action steps were to investigate, define, and revise my expectations, so as to minimize the gap between them and the reality life threw at me. The core belief is that reality is something that happens to you, and your ability to deal with it is the key. I think of sayings like “Go with it!” and “Just deal with it” (From the one-season CBS show Kid Nation – who remembers Taylor?). Again, to a large extent, this is correct.
I believe too many of us really don’t accept anything life gives us and want to change and control everything, because we feel out of control. If you’re there now, then this approach is probably an excellent first step. Practicing it will give you a form of acceptance, which can bring that much needed peace you desire. In fact, only by going with those things that come at you, can you affect them in any way Fighting them repeatedly separates you even further from the place where you can have an effect. But eventually, after spending years of becoming one with your life’s events, you lose yourself and even the most trained master will eventually feel resentment.
This occurs because this approach denies a very human part of us that allows and even insists that we create our own reality. Certainly there are limitations, but to accept that reality just happens (“Stuff Happens”) is to voluntarily put on your own shackles of slavery to the randomness of existence. Yes, there are random events and forces in our lives and more is random than we want to believe (See Black Swan). However, it is not all random. This is the reason this approach fails eventually. Every one of us knows that we will not ever be truly ourselves by only changing our expectations and allowing everyone and everything external to us to simple “take us for a ride.”
Approach 2: Change your Interpretation
Another approach I tried, which worked very well also, for some time, was to redefine my interpretation of stress as either negative (dis-stress) or positive (eu-stress). This gave me the ability to differentiate and analyze the effect/result of stressful situations. It taught me clearly that most stressful situations result in positive ends, or at the very least neutral, and that much time and emotion is wasted on the anxiety of what may become a distressful situation, but usually doesn’t.
The lesson in this approach is that we have the power in our mind to interpret things as we choose. We are not victims of reality, but indeed can choose to see something in a certain light. One of the hidden benefits here is that by choosing to see the initial stages of a potentially negative situation, as positive, we are often actually changing the situation into a positive one, since we attract to us what we dwell upon in our minds.
However, this approach, while more respectful of the self and certainly educational, is still limiting because it does not take into account the individual’s essential self. It teaches the individual to use their mind positively and has great benefits, but still the essential core of who the person actually is, and always has been, is denied. You can only go against your true nature for so long before your-self pays the price, physically, mentally, or spiritually, or in a combination of these.
Approach 3: Change your feelings
Another approach I tried, with varying degrees of success, was to attempt to change my feelings, through reading books and therapy. Again, this approach had varying levels of success, sometimes appearing to have made monumental breakthroughs.
I felt enlightened many times, as my mind grew. I felt relieved as I accepted my past. I felt supported, that someone else had experienced what I had and that I could get through it, too. If felt accepted, part of humanity, who were all suffering together and trying to improve. I felt unshackled, as lingering, damaging memories were uncovered and disarmed in my mind so stresses didn’t affect me as much or at all.
However, this approach always seemed to come against some sort of wall, as if the destination was in the next book or the next therapy session, like one of these days I’ll graduate from my lowly struggle with stress and be able to handle anything that comes my way with calmness, ease, grace, and effectiveness. And, I did – many times.
But in many cases, I continued to spend time addressing stresses which came my way, which I, deep inside, knew were not benefiting me. Even when I got skilled at handling them, managing stresses became a sort of job for me, which I longed to retire from. My-self was was still longing to be acknowledged, because it was stuck dealing with things it really didn’t care to deal with, received no benefit from, and, frankly, was wasting its life away doing so.
My New Approach: Self Respect
None of the previous approaches are incorrect or were wrong for me. In fact, I received terrific benefit from all of them. However, it appears that perhaps experiencing them was a path leading me to this new approach. I have no idea if skipping them and just adopting this approach would be beneficial to the same degree, or at all, even, as having been through them as I did.
To entirely honor, allow, and respect yourself, it is essential that you, the essential person you are, be acknowledged, supported, cared for, loved, and respected. I believe my essential self is my natural soul, my heavenly spirit, and my north star, and is inherent in who I am.
This is not a non-existent part of myself, to be denied by changing my rational expectations, as in the first approach. This is not a purely logical part of myself, to be managed through constructive expectation adjustment, as in the second approach. This is not my feelings, which can could be controlled, to some extent, as in the third approach.
This my true SELF. The innermost person I have always been and always will be. Our current society truly degrades this part of us, through well-meaning traditional education systems, social and entertainment media, and even religious structures, all of which mean no harm, but through repetition, deny even the existence of the true inner self.
But by listening very, very carefully, you will hear whispers of this self. It will call you to choose certain directions, avoid others, and respond with peace when your life is in accordance with its true nature.
Of course, you can chose to go against it, but you will suffer. Your body knows this true self, and will bear the friction of denying it for some time, but eventually will begin failing in small, then larger areas. Your mind will ache, for no apparent reason, you will wake up tired, you will crave anything to sooth yourself, including typical addictive items. Eventually, the human system will rebel, then, if no change is made to accept the inner essential self, the human system will succumb to deep sickness, eventually leading to its death.
I have found that the best stress relieve I now know is to entirely accept my essential self. This does NOT mean I go with every feeling, whim, or desire – quite the opposite. I listen very closely for the inner discernment that exists with every situation.
I may have arrived at this place through the previous approaches, years of martial arts training, recent cranial fluid vibration balancing work, deeper studying and understanding of essential human truths, as practiced in Gangetic religions (such as Jainism and Buddhism), or perhaps just from having been sick and tired of not living an optimum life, which I knew, deep inside, was available to me, but I couldn’t find it.
Learning to listen to yourself is essential. Anyone or anything who advocates denial of the self for another (or a group) will inherently rob you of your-self and shackle you to bondage of society. Imagine literally everyone in the world denied their own essential selves for everyone else. There would be nobody with any essential self left! (Except, perhaps, for the few who already knew this and got everyone else to deny themselves for the few’s benefit – but that is another blog entry, someday).
So, I have no advice for you, in how to practice this approach, yet. I have found that my stress levels have gone to nearly zero by adopting this approach, so my evidence is merely individual and empirical, but it makes sense to me, feels correct, and intuitively (spiritually) seems to be an essential approach.
I would love to know if anyone else has arrived at the same place or felt the same subtle inadequacy with other stress management/relief approaches. Please consider all I have said above and if you feel some resonance with it, please comment here and let me and others know.