There’s a look that’s been haunting me lately. Actually, it’s more than a visual thing, I see it and I feel it. I ask someone how they’re doing and I can see the tension in their faces. Even when their words say they’re okay, their reactions and the energy surrounding them tell a different story. I’m sympathetic because I recognize that look in myself. I’ve gotten used to that look. In the past, I convinced myself that it’s the price you pay for what you have and where you are.
That is no longer acceptable.
Last year, the American Psychological Association released its annual “Stress in America” survey and reported the most significant increase in stress in the report’s 10-year history. To most of us, this isn’t surprising. It’s a reality we deal with every day. From money to work, social media, kids, politics, the list of stressors that affect us daily is endless. It’s important to note that the list consists of both positive and negative situations. According to the American Institute of Stress, stress comes in different varieties and flavors. There’s acute stress (flight or fight), chronic stress (bills, kids, jobs), eustress (marriage, promotion, winning money), distress (divorce, financial problems, work issues). Basically, we live and breathe stress.
“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” — Lily Tomlin
We can’t control the challenges Life throws at us but we can be mindful of how we respond. It’s time to start taking steps to heal our lives.
1. Focus on the situation at hand, not the story
Stress is a state of mind triggered predominantly by how we’re feeling. It’s rarely ever about what’s actually happening in the moment but always about how we feel—our assumptions, our fears make up these feelings. For example, my boss gave me a deadline of 6pm for a project that I was briefed on at 5pm is a situation that is happening and the reality; My boss is trying to sabotage me, has no respect for me and doesn’t value me are your feelings about what’s happening and the story you’re choosing to tell. Focusing on the situation allows you to be more solution driven.
2. Focus on what you can control
Whenever you feel stressed, ask yourself two things:
- Is there anything I can do about it now? If there is, then take action but don’t be tied to the results of the action. Do what you feel can help, which I call “inspired action” and then try to let go from there and allow the action you’ve taken to create a solution for you.
- Ask yourself if it’s worth your peace. Peace is a choice you have in every stressful situation. You can’t control what other people do or the challenges Life throws at you. The only things you have control over are your actions and reactions. If you find that there’s nothing you can do about a life situation, choose your peace instead and take comfort in knowing that Life is ever changing and so are the situations that accompany it. Whatever the life situation is will also change, with or without your help and especially your worrying.
3. Focus on being present
A lot of us live mostly in the past and future and never in the present moment. When we’re stressed, it’s a sign that we’re not present. If we’re present, we’ll realize that we actually have everything we need in the moment we’re in. Presence means you’re fully awake and focused only on what is happening in that moment, not what has happened or what could happen. Here’s a simple formula for staying present in stressful situations: Don’t make assumptions, don’t tell stories (the mind loves this), face the facts, take inspired action and let go.
4. Focus on being grateful
It’s hard to go from one extreme feeling to another. For example, sadness to happiness or being incredibly stressed to being completely calm. The best you can do is to reach for a slightly better feeling and state of mind than where you currently are. Gratitude is a gateway to that next step. No matter what is happening in the current moment, take comfort in the fact that it could always be worse. Somewhere out there is a person going through a much tougher situation than you are and who would take your life situation in a heartbeat. By acknowledging this, you’re able to reach for a better feeling thought. Reach for thoughts that focus on things within the present moment. The fact that you’re breathing and alive for example; the miracle of your body doing exactly what it needs to take care of you; the fact that you have a job to help sustain your needs; the gift of friends and family to support you in this journey etc. These thoughts are broad and neutral enough to get you to a better feeling space. The better you feel, the more you can expand that list until you feel your best.
Whenever I watch a basketball game, there’s this thought at the back of my mind about how hilarious it is that we (the players and spectators) take these games so seriously. Yes, it is a battle of skill and strength, but at the end of the day, it is also a story of grown men and women chasing each other around a man-made box, attempting to get a piece of leather through a metal ring—sounds silly when I put it that way doesn’t it? The people who enjoy the game the most are those who recognize that it is just that—a game. The players are men and women first before they are players. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. We are more than our life experiences.