Stress is like sex. People talk about it all the time. Most think they’re pretty good at handling it. Few people really take the time to understand or master it well.
Life is basically one challenge after another. In other words, a life without trials and hardships is no life at all. Accepting this truth will provide the springboard from which you can soar to higher heights and deeper depths of meaning and happiness. Great leaders will tell you that they actually delight in hardships because challenge presents the opportunity for building internal fortitude, which is the secret of a great life.
But while hardships, disappointments, insults and troubles are inevitable, the good news is that stress is not. You are not stressed because things are tough. Stress is not the difficulties that you are facing with divorce proceedings or the disrespectful way your boss yells at you. Nor is stress the constant interruptions in your day, or having more work than you can handle. It’s not even a shortage of money, being criticized by your spouse or having your pet die.
Stress is not the event! Stress is your chosen response to an event you perceive as particularly difficult to deal with. The event is not stress; it is only the activator or the stressor. You decide whether that stressor will turn into stress. Stressors are inevitable—but stress is not.
Three Avenues Of Escape
If you are faced with a terrible stressor right now, remember that you have several windows of opportunity to prevent that stressor from stressing you out.
Your first opportunity lies with the stressful agent itself. Learn to arrest the stressor as soon as it approaches and deal with it immediately. In other words, don’t react to the situation —respond to it. Go ahead and acknowledge that yes, you may have missed the deadline, failed the exam or made a fool of yourself at the party, but by all means remember to say, “I can handle it.” These four words close the door to stress.
Instead of reacting emotionally, devote your energy and attention to dealing with the situation. Here are specific techniques to help you do this:
“Wisdom,” says William James, “is the simple art of knowing what to overlook.” When faced with a stressor learn to overlook some mistakes.
Perception—the way you choose to view a challenging situation. Learn to use hardships as cues to develop positive and self-enhancing perception. In the midst of a disaster, keep reminding yourself that you can handle it. Reach deep into your soul and connect to the vast field of unbounded energy that gives you the power to control your responses. Positive perception closes the gate to stress; learn to beef up your perception by becoming mentally in touch. Treat every stressor as a cue to build a refined and integrated body and mind.
Response—what you do about it. When something terrible happens, choose to perceive it in a light that enables rather than paralyzes. Soften the impact of a disaster on your psycho-physiological system by establishing control over your body and mind. At the first sign of difficulty, tense your muscles, take a deep breath, look slightly upwards and smile inwardly (and outwardly if you have the courage). As you breathe out, relax and extend the out-breath. At the same time, adjust your body, let go of tension in your jaw and shoulders and assume a balanced posture.
When troubles and difficulties strike, suspend your natural reaction and deal with the stressor. As Eienstein said, in every hardship there is opportunity. Internalize this and practice these prescriptions, and you will win against stress.
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