People cite many reasons for feeling stressed. None of these will surprise you, no doubt. Amongst the top are:
- Children (their unpredictability)
- Career – not making progress or progress has stalled
- Health concerns & for others
- Politics/environment/crime/climate change
- Too much to do & not enough time
- I’m not where I want to be
Yet actually, there is only one reason we get stressed.
It’s because we have a rigid idea of what we think the world and our lives should be like and we get stressed when things are not going how we expected or planned.
We try to control our environment and when things don’t go the way we think they should, or the way we want them to, then we get stressed. We make a plan, set goals and think that if the plan goes well, we’ll be happy. We think we’re in control when we’re setting these goals and objectives. We think we’ll achieve them and that’s it, job done. Think of the major ones such as ‘I deserve a good life’ or ‘nothing terrible should/is going to happen to me’. Or perhaps you want to move home and you can’t sell your house, causing you huge stress because you believed that when you wanted to move house, you’d be able to. And when it doesn’t happen, you get stressed.
So this idea that we are in control is really a bit of an act isn’t it? It’s just a notion – that we can control and therefore determine what we want to have or achieve or how life should be. Sometimes life does go according to plan and we just get lucky, but what happens when we don’t succeed and it doesn’t? We get stressed.
So how do we resolve this?
- Try to be a witness to all the mental chatter in our heads, this rather than believe it and get immersed in it. When you are a witness to this ongoing (often negative) dialogue, rather than get attached to it, the world becomes an easier place to live in. Mindfulness is excellent for helping you with this.
- We often focus on all the things that are going wrong with our lives (which is usually just a few things, ironically) but not on all the amazing things that are right and good. Try gratitude instead. And by this I mean, really feeling the gratitude from your heart, not from a headspace. Move away from a needy place of wanting to change all the things that are wrong and focus on all the wonderful things that you have. It’s simple, yet profound. Do it every night before you go to bed and every morning when you wake up.
- Make a goal(s), yes, but then forget about them and start enjoying the journey rather than continuously trying to make the goal happen. Focus on the process and not the outcome and you’ll find that you actually start to enjoy the process, despite its twists and turns, ups and downs. Dr. Srikumar Rao likens this to us being civil engineers. Our lives are like being given some land to build a road. Across the land are hills and rivers and forests and we have to work out how to build the best road we can, through the terrain we are given. You have to work with the land, and the more sympathetically you do this, the more fruitful both the journey and the outcome will be. Whether you believe this or not, once you have set your goal, the more detached you are from the outcome, the more likely to achieve it. Of course, the only way to find out if this is actually true, is to try it for yourself 😉
- Don’t make situations ‘bad’ or ‘terrible’, because you actually never know whether they are or not. Something that’s bad today may turn out to be great tomorrow. If you turn around the thought that something is terrible into ‘is there any good in this situation?’, then you entirely change the chemistry of it.