There is a powerful song by David Bowie, called “Under Pressure.” In the song, he sings about those days “when it never rains, but pours.”
What David captures so eloquently is the fact that stress has the potential to overwhelm our defenses and make us feel out of control. When our minds are consumed with worry and stress, positivity becomes a distant dream. Our negative thoughts feed on each other and grow stronger with every cycle.
When we are stressed, we are like a dog chasing its own tail; we find ourselves unable to see beyond the immediate moment to find the positive thoughts that could break our destructive self-consumption. Fortunately, we do not have to be a slave to our anxious thoughts.
We can take control. We can replace negativity with positivity. We can fight anxiety with hope. And, we can replace the fear of what might happen to us with the courage to reshape our lives from within.
Our bodies evolved in a world filled with danger. In an environment filled with dangerous predators, unpredictable storms and scarce resources, reacting quickly was a matter of life and death. Can you imagine what life “in the wild” would actually be like? Talk about stressful!
Our world has changed a lot in the last few thousand years, but, our minds haven’t. Our bodies can’t tell the difference between a growling tiger and an unfriendly debt-collector. Our minds can’t tell the difference between a fear of starvation and a fear of not having enough money. Our bodies learned how to survive the hard way. They don’t care about our happiness.
Releasing our stress and becoming more positive requires a conscious effort. Are you ready to take control of your stress? Let’s talk about how you can.
The first step to eliminating stress is to bring our anxieties and fears from our subconscious into our conscious minds. For as long as our fears lie below the surface of our awareness, we cannot control them.
Some stressors are environmental, like the sound of a busy city street or an unpleasant smell. These anxiety causing factors are especially insidious because they are easy to ignore on a conscious level. But, while environmental stressors are easy to ignore, they do not go away. They sit just below the surface, wearing away at our emotional reserves.
Other stressors are specific. For example, we might be stressed out by a leaky roof or an illness in the family. Or, we might worry about whether we have the money to live well in retirement. It might sound like specific stresses are already conscious. Nothing could be further than the truth!
We do not have to be a slave to our anxious thoughts. We can take control. We can replace negativity with positivity. We can fight anxiety with hope. And, we can replace the fear of what might happen to us with the courage to take control of our lives.
Most of the time, we are conscious of the potential negative consequence of our stressors, rather than the stressors themselves. We are aware of our fears, but, we are afraid to dig deeper and really think about what is causing them – and, more importantly, what we can do about them. Take a few moments to think about the main stresses in your life. What stresses you out?
Once we become aware of what is stressing us out, we can start to do something about it. The key word here is “do”. Action is the best antidote to anxiety. No matter the struggles that we are facing, there are always things that we can do to take control. We might not be able to cure a friend’s illness, but, we can make their lives better in a hundred small ways. We cannot solve our money problems over night, but, we can take specific steps to improve our financial situation over time.
It is perfectly normal and healthy to feel sad when tragedy strikes. The difference is a matter of perspective. Do you allow painful situations to make you withdraw from the world? Or, do you force painful situations to spur you to action? Even if we cannot control everything, we can always control something.
By focusing on what we can control, we keep stress in its place so that we can focus on the hard work of making our lives and the lives of those around us better.
How do you respond to stress? Do you feel paralyzed by the negative events in your life? What is one thing that you can do today to address one of your stresses?
Finally, don’t underestimate the impact that your health and mental state can have on your stress level. Get strong mentally and physically. Get enough sleep and plenty of exercise. Consider meditation or yoga as a tool for calming your mind. Since fighting stress is a conscious process, you will need deep emotional reserves to succeed. As such, be careful which stresses you direct your energy towards.
Sometimes it makes sense to practice stress-jujitsu – instead of tackling a stress directly, learn to deflect it. A good example of this is to avoid taking on other people’s problems. Learn to say “no” to friends and family who make unreasonable demands. We have spent much of our lives helping others. But, that does not mean that we need to take on others’ stress as well.
Stress is unavoidable. It is a part of our evolutionary heritage and it serves a useful purpose. We can never eliminate stress completely, but, we can choose how we live with it – and more importantly what we do with it.
Write down one thing that stresses you out on a regular basis. Now write down one step that you are committed to taking that will reduce this stress.
What do you do to reduce the stress in your life? What advice would you give to a friend who is feeling a bit stressed out right now?