Coping with Stress

Stress is a universal experience. We all get bogged down at times or overwhelmed with the details and demands of our lives. Many things have been written about how to deal with it.  

Most of what we hear is eat healthy, exercise, drink lots of water, get eight hours of sleep a night, take breaks and go on vacations. Organize and juggle all your responsibilities as best you can.

All of this is solid advice but let’s take the conversation even further. One of the greatest sources of stress for people is their very own thoughts. How we choose to think about things can move us closer to peace or stress.

For example, today is a rainy day. We can decide it is annoying to deal with puddles, muddy shoes, umbrellas, raincoats and getting wet. Or we can be thankful Spring is here and the moisture is providing exactly what is needed for the crops to thrive, the flowers to bloom and the grass to grow. 

Notice the difference? One line of thinking will tense you up and stress you out. The other will add to feelings of gratitude and joy. Your thoughts about work, relationships, national news, religion, politics, and even the food you eat can significantly impact your stress levels.

The same is true of our feelings. How you choose to respond emotionally to anything can largely affect the amount of stress you feel about it. Perhaps you are struggling with your finances. Maybe you didn’t get good news at tax time.

You can either be angry and upset about your circumstances, even blaming somebody else, or you can decide to feel empowered to turn the situation around by taking action to eliminate your debts or increase your revenue. Which feeling is less stressful?

Dealing with other people can be a huge stress producer. However, you can make constant choices in all your relationships that will reduce rather than increase stress.

For example, many people worry about what others are thinking of them. People compare themselves to others and want people to like them or approve of them. Because we cannot possibly please everyone, this is a no win situation. Inevitably, someone is going to judge or misunderstand you. 

You cannot control others’ thoughts or feelings about you, so it is important to be confident enough to let go of worrying about this. If you are happy with yourself and your life decisions, that’s enough.

Speaking of worrying, more than 95% of what we worry about never actually happens. We worry our children will be abducted, the plane will crash, we will lose our job, or the house will burn down. Now I realize these things do happen, but they are rare. 

The point is, worrying about things doesn’t prevent them. How the flight goes has nothing to do with whether or not you laid awake last night stressing about the possibility.

The good news is, we can control our stress levels by checking our thoughts and feelings about everything. If you are stressed out, do a quick assessment of whether you are negative or positive about specifics in your life. 

If in your investigation you realize you are siding on the negative, overdramatic, or being unfair to yourself, ask yourself what other thought or feeling you could choose that does not stress you out or produce unnecessary suffering.

In her new book, Stress Free in 30 Seconds, Melanie Smithson says, “Our natural state is full of peace and joy, but it is often covered up with thoughts and feelings that don’t support well-being.” She recommends “we take life just a bit less seriously and embrace having fun, even with our thoughts and feelings.”

Living stress free is easier the more gentle, compassionate, and playful we can be in our lives. Smithson teaches deep breathing, smiling more, changing our posture, and employing all our senses as practical ways to respect and use our body to remain stress free. 

Adopting healthy physical, thinking, and feeling habits will make coping with stress much easier no matter what circumstances you are facing in your life. Stress is common; joy is natural. The choice is yours.

© - Cindy D. Whitmer (April 5, 2014)