Stress is primarily caused by external triggers and how we deal and process it depends upon our constitution and temperament. People who handle stress mindfully will tend to be less reactive, are more macro focused on the “big picture” and have a thicker skin. Those who are micro focused on the little details are usually more reactive and thinned skinned. Historically, men with their higher levels of testosterone tend to be more competitive and are taught through activities such as sports to look at the overall strategy of the game while women who are genetically wired to communicate emotions generally are more sensitive and empathic. But in today’s economic climate stress can take a toll on even those who normally are able to let things roll off their back.
According to the most recent APA “Stress in America” survey, nearly half of today’s adults reported being more stressed out. And just as many say they’re simply unable to control the important aspects of their lives. The key to dealing with a stressful situation, especially for those who take things personally, is to develop a deeply grounded core rudder so that no matter what size of wave one encounters they can recover quickly and proceed with more focus.
My good friend and colleague, Dr. Judith Orloff recently posted a blog from her new book, The Ecstasy of Surrender on how letting go, relinquishing control, and being more flexible can help relieve stress. The art of letting go or surrendering is part of the mindfulness meditation practice I discuss in my book, Wise Mind, Open Mind. Meditation helps to quiet the rational mind, and allow you to open up to the intuitive creative mind. Through this connection one is able to build what I call “mindstrength,” learn to stop their reactivity, and focus on the big picture.
I’ve found in my practice patients who are in a stressful situation benefit from answering the following questions, which allows them to shift from a reactive state and become more proactive.
- What do I feel right now?
- Do these feelings benefit me in any way? If I feel anxious and fearful, do these emotions lead me to insights, or are they completely unwholesome responses that cause conflict, hold me back, and distract and dis-empower me?
- If what I’m experiencing is in response to another person’s behavior, what’s the evidence that that person’s actions have little or nothing to do with me and are, instead, the result of what’s going on inside his own mind?
- Is there anything I can do to help myself depersonalize the situation?
- Are there practices I can use to nourish myself at this difficult time?
Here are some additional forms of stress and solutions on how to let them go from Judith Orloff’s new book.
Work Stress—Don’t Compare, Compliment
If you’re stressed out at work, stop comparing yourself to others, and focus on what you’re grateful for. Instead of envying someone’s success, consider what you can learn from them and wish them well. Letting go this way can be very liberating, freeing you to change at least some of your work related behaviors.
Relationship Stress—Show Compassion, Relinquish Control
Yelling at your spouse, partner, or children won’t relieve your stress. The key is to stay calm, no matter what buttons your loved one has pushed. Don’t react or get defensive, and allow the other person to finish talking. Let what they say sink in before you respond. Substitute compassion for control. Accept where they’re coming from.
Physical Stress—Move Don’t Mope
Here is a surprisingly simple solution: To let go of physical stress, let your body do what it was designed to do – move. At least several times a week, visit the gym, walk your dog, swim, or do yoga stretches. Movement relaxes muscles, reduces tension, and helps you sleep better. If you are physically stressed out surrender to the bliss of your body’s sacred energy and love your body through movement.
Time-Related Stress—Let Nature Calm You
The American culture rushes people through life, work, and relationships. We don’t allow ourselves enough time to let things happen at their own pace, and surrender to the flow. Take time stressors to go outside and focus on a cloud, watch it drift, and notice its changing shape. Let the air rush through and around you and clear out your mind. Drink a glass of water and take a relaxing shower to cleanse the negativity and work deadlines from your system. These calming exercises can help your rushing mind slow down and gain perspective.
Illness-Related Stress—Trust Your Body’s Healing Powers
An illness can often lead to depression. To keep negative thoughts from overwhelming you, change your negative beliefs (I will never heal) to positive ones (I trust my body’s healing powers). Instead of getting stressed out, listen to your body—and if a treatment or a doctor’s approach doesn’t feel right to you, question it. Get enough sleep and avoid people and settings that deplete or de-energize you.