Stress can be self-inflicted, and it is often created from our sense of how the world should operate. During challenging times, it may be helpful to ask, “How can I look at stress in a new and helpful light?” The answer may be found by observing what is going on, then considering what can be done about it. Beyond this, there are several ways to allow stress to dissipate, just like every other thought that comes and goes.
There are two main types of stress: “eustress,” and “distress.” Eustress is happy or positive stress — distress is the stress that feels challenging. Examples of “good” stress are planning a wedding, traveling, having a baby, buying a new house, graduating from college, retiring, and so on. These events can be stressful even when we regard them as happy milestones.
On the other hand, we refer to “distress” as a negative force that causes us irritation, anger, worry, blame, and fear. Examples include being fired from a job, getting divorced, court proceedings, financial difficulties, and illness. Often distress is accompanied by a feeling that life is out of control.
Stress Starts with a Thought
When we observe our own mind during meditation, we realize something profound — stress and fear-based thoughts are but a few of many passing thoughts, and those thoughts are always based on the past. Stress takes past experience and applies it to the future in the form of fear; “What will happen to me?” and/or “What will happen to my friends or loved ones?” This leads to imagine current conditions turning into future difficulties — think of these fearful thoughts as “disaster” fantasies.
Stress is a product of the mind. If you spend time observing your thoughts, you’ll understand what sages teach — that the mind is created of thoughts and nothing else. And the sense of self (which Carl Jung called the “persona”) is an accumulation of thoughts and memories.
Ramana Maharshi said, “Apart from thoughts, there is no such thing as mind. Therefore, thought is the nature of mind.” If we apply this to stress, we see that stress is a passing idea brought on by a mind that has been psychologically conditioned to worry. But how does this help when stress is staring you in the face?
Ways of Managing Stress
Although stress begins with how we perceive ourselves in relation to the people and events in our world, our fear-based imaginings of worst case scenarios cause the body to elevate hormones, create inflammation, overload the mind, and impact the immune system and energy levels.
The kindest course of action is a gentle regimen that addresses stress holistically by nurturing mind, body, emotions, and spirit. Here are some strategies for getting things into perspective and staying centered.
If you can find joy in your life, stress seems to diminish or disappear altogether.
Meditation: Many think of meditation as sitting in a lotus position while trying to quiet the mind. But meditation is much more, especially when the mind is not being used to try to control or suppress stressful thoughts. Meditation can be a practice of observing — not only the world, but the one who is observing . When we realize that the one who experiences the stress is not the stress itself, it becomes easier to cope by putting things into perspective. If you can find joy in your life, stress seems to diminish or disappear altogether.
Writing for Healthy Ayurveda, David Wolfe explained, “Blissful Joy nourishes the mind-body connection by helping to remove toxins that make you feel dull or sad, by supporting the memory of bliss in your cells, and by helping to balance hormones that govern emotions. The result is a renewed feeling of energy and happiness — and an overall sense of well-being. Situations that used to cause stress will be easier to handle. You’ll find yourself responding to life’s challenges — big and small — with a new outlook.”
Exercise: Deepak Chopra said, “Wherever a thought goes, a chemical goes with it.” Since emotional and mental stress leads to chemical changes in the body, exercise helps stress find an outlet.
While there are thousands of ways to move the body — from dancing to kickboxing — some of the best forms of exercise for stress are the ones that are meditative in nature. Thus, yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, gardening, long walks, and similar practices are recommended. Yoga master BKS Iyengar taught, “Yoga allows you to find an inner peace that is not ruffled and riled by the endless stresses and struggles of life.”
Practice Loving Kindness: Physicist-turned-Buddhist-monk Matthieu Ricard has been called the happiest person on earth. He has many recipes for being happy, and his bestselling book, Happiness, is well worth reading over and over again, especially in times of stress and woe, whether you’re in the midst of a pandemic or a personal crisis.
If there is no solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it. If there is a solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it.
The Dalai Lama
Ricard wrote, “If you continually think of the countless sufferings of others, you might be overcome by a feeling of powerlessness, even despair, and feel overwhelmed by the immensity of the task. When this happens, switch to rejoicing in all the qualities of people who benefit others and of all the positive deeds that are accomplished throughout the world.”
Ricard advises, “Sincerely dedicate the benefits of meditation to all beings, thinking: ‘May the positive energy generated not only by this meditation but all my actions, words and caring thoughts, past, present and future help alleviate the suffering of beings in the short and long term.’” It is amazing how the practice of such sentiments can transform stress into joy.
Perspective — Look at the Big Picture : Stress is the result of looking at the little picture in life — personal misery, misfortune, and/or fears. But if we take a step back, we can observe that life is an unbounded movement, and today’s problems lead to tomorrow’s conditions, neither good nor bad. All of our troubles are related to where we put our attention. Placing the attention on the present moment keeps the mind from projecting yesterday’s thoughts into tomorrow, which is something we call anxiety or worry.
Decades ago, the Dalai Lama said something that is well worth contemplating today: “If there is no solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it. If there is a solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it.”