Wednesday, May 18, 2016
“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.– Winston Churchill
Worrying is common in today’s world, to the point where most of us are constantly worrying about, well, everything. Then it blossoms into full blown stress, which can take a strong hold on our lives. It will dictate most of our behaviors, thoughts, and actions- but only if we let it.
This may be surprising, but stress does have a purpose. It directs our attention to something (a situation or other outside influence) that is unpleasant or dangerous, so that we can take necessary action to remove ourselves from it. Usually, our bodies will restore themselves to neutral after the stressor has been removed. When we are under constant stress, the body never has a chance to recover, and that’s when it becomes dangerous to our health. Kris Carr illustrates this mind-body connection in the following: “If you don't think your anxiety, depression, sadness and stress impact your physical health, think again. All of these emotions trigger chemical reactions in your body, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system. Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days.” Unfortunately, we live in a society that glorifies being stressed out, which can make breaking free difficult. A good starting point is turning inward.
The first thing to do is pinpoint the source of your stress. There are many theories as to the origins of stress, but one of my favorites is from Eckhart Tolle: “Stress is caused by being ‘here’ but wanting to be ‘there.’” “Here” could be a physical space, like being stuck in a traffic jam when you need to be “there” at work. It can also refer to wherever you are mentally. This idea also translates into mental space. In essence, our root cause of stress is usually from trying to manipulate situations beyond our control and the ensuing frustration when things don’t go according to plan. Take some time to reflect on the situations that are generating feelings of stress in your life. How many of them are beyond your control?
The next step is releasing yourself from this burden, which is another inside job. Expecting someone else to remove the stress from you inevitably creates an unhealthy dynamic, for starters, and can also breed further stress and resentments. Relieving yourself of stress means re-evaluating how the aforementioned situations trigger a stress response. Is it a situation we can remove ourselves from? If not, how can we change our perspective or attitude toward the situation in a way that reduces stress? This requires some deep digging. In all likelihood, it will also mean letting go and accepting that certain things are beyond our control, and that’s okay.
Stress isn’t all bad, but when it starts taking over our lives and well-being, it may be time to sit down with ourselves and look at what’s really going on. As we move through life, good and bad things will happen, we can only control our response: “A diamond is a piece of charcoal that handled stress exceptionally well” (unknown).
Thursday, May 12, 2016
“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” Maya Angelou
Last week, we looked at some ideas for cultivating resilience. This week, I want to expand on one of the qualities of resilient people that is a bit obscure: self-regulation. Self regulation isdefined as “the ability to respond to the ongoing demands of experience with the range of emotions in a manner that is socially tolerable and sufficiently flexible to permit spontaneous reactions as well as the ability to delay spontaneous reactions as needed.” In other words, people who self-regulate possess some control over their emotional health and expression. Even when they feel pushed to the brink by a stressful situation, they tend not to react in a volatile manner (even if they want to). Let’s delve into some characteristics of self-regulating people and how you can cultivate this habit:
One common misconception is that self regulation is synonymous with being in a zen-like state most of the time and being at peace in the middle of any and all storms. When imagined this way, self-regulation seems highly unattainable. On the contrary, self-regulation doesn’t mean that you never experience a negative emotion. It means that in instances when you do feel those emotions, you have the ability to think before reacting. Instead of a knee-jerk reaction like yelling or bursting into tears, you give yourself a moment or two to decide what a socially appropriate reaction looks like in that situation-calmly responding or walking away. It’s not a matter of minimizing your emotions, just expressing them in a healthy manner. Those who self-regulate understand the following sentiment: “You cannot control someone else’s behavior. You can only control your own reaction”
Although in some cases, emotional regulation can feel difficult and at times impossible, it’s something that can be worked toward. Meditation is a priceless exercise and helps with a variety of issues, such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and so on. Incorporating this practice in your life teaches you how to experience your feelings with a sense of detachment- you allow yourself to feel various emotions, without the need to act on them (especially in a destructive manner like angrily calling someone). Other tips include avoiding mind-altering substances, as these can aggravate certain emotions and affect how we perceive a situation. Other habits include typical self-care tips, such as regular sleep and exercise and a healthy diet. It might also be helpful to consider working with a therapist in some cases.
Being able to control how we react to adverse or uncomfortable situations requires daily practice. We can’t predict what sort of conflict we may encounter throughout the day or even how they may trigger us. Equipped with this understanding, we may be better able to deal with situations that we find unacceptable, and bounce back to equilibrium: “Serenity is not the absence of conflict but the ability to cope with it.”
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it”- Margaret Thatcher
Everyone has a bad day, or a series of bad days, once in awhile. It’s all a part of life. Resilience is our ability to bounce back from these unavoidable setbacks and “get back on the saddle.” Like the Margaret Thatcher quote above suggests, when you encounter a challenge or obstacle, you may not be successful on the first try. At times, it probably feels like you’re stuck in a repetitive loop having to deal with the same problem more than once. Part of being resilient is being able to come back to a battle more than once, and being ok with the fact that you might have to lose once in awhile. If you don’t consider yourself among the resilient, the good news is that many of the characteristics of resilient people can be obtained with a bit work!
Acceptance might be the most important part of resilience, and the part that is easier said than done. It takes a lot of work to be comfortable with the knowledge that some things are beyond our control. The truth is, even though we work hard and try to do the next right thing, we aren’t the ones running the show. We truly only have control over ourselves and our own actions.
Another piece of acceptance is having faith that, even if we don’t have control, that it will all be okay. Again, this might feel unfamiliar to many people at first (like being spiritually blindfolded). Every now and then, you’re not going to feel very positive. Life might be throwing a lot at you at once. You don’t have to be at your best all the time- remember that it’s okay not to be okay every now and then.
“It’s not the load that breaks you, it’s the way you carry it” (Lena Horne).
Although it may seem like resilient people are independently strong, they usually have a strong support group that helps them through the difficult times. Part of being resilient is knowing that as individuals, we don’t have all the answers, and someone else might be able to help if we let them. Have you ever told a friend something difficult or painful, and felt physically lighter because of it? Powerful feelings and emotions can weigh us down. Life’s burdens are less likely to break us if we distribute the weight across multiple people rather than trying to shoulder them all ourselves.
“Failure is a bruise not a tattoo” (Jon Sinclair). Another important component of resilience is perspective. Is the glass half full or half empty? Resilient people don’t tell themselves “I can’t” or view situations as impossible to handle. They also tend to look at difficulties as an opportunity for growth. It sounds a bit “out there,” but remember, I said these qualities required a bit of work! Situations may appear different if we step away for a little bit. It may also be an opportunity to ask someone else for their perspective- you never know what wisdom another person has to offer.
Resilience isn’t built in a day. Sure, some people make it look easy but these are skills that everyone can develop with a bit of practice and patience.