A Dharma friend wrote to me about her work situation. It is not an unusual concern.
“I am a bit hung up right now on the changes (in the work environment). It is making me a bit paralysed action wise on all other matters.
“It’s so stressful not knowing anything (about what will happen) and its creating anxiety in my system. Once things are clearer, I can make new plans. I am terrible attached to a positive outcome.
“I don’t feel I am unable to ignore the uncertainty. I feel it is eating me up inside. What shall I do?”
Stress might come in a sudden upsurge due to feelings, sensations in the body, thoughts or another stimulus. Or stress might linger through much of the day leaving tiredness, tension and physical weakness with unhappiness in the mind. Every activity then becomes an effort.
Six Primary Areas Revealing Stress
- Single Issue. A single unresolved issue can make an impact such as my friend referred to at the start of the blog. Work or a relationship can create much stress. Stress on a specific easily spills over into other areas. The same stress can land on issues, related or not, to the main issue. Money, relationships, travel, work, confidence, health, old age, views about life, oneself and more.
- Desire to escape. One might imagine time off work would resolve the stress or time away from the kids or finding a new home will resolve the stress. It might make a real deal difference, but it also might be a temporary relief. Positive fantasies can bring one crashing down showing anger, blame and despair.
- Food and Drink. Under stress, we might start eating and drinking more, eating less or indulging in unhealthy food with more fat, sugar, salt and chemicals to feel something pleasurable for a few moments. Comfort foods do not bring long term comfort because it is a temporary means to escape the stress. Some people’s appetite increases significantly under stress while others lose their appetite.
- Headaches. Pressure in the mind and pressure absorbed from outside of ourselves can impact in a physical location, such as the head and specifically the brain.
- Sleeplessness. Stress unsettles energies which can produce physical symptoms. It is difficult to get to sleep or stay asleep or experience a deep sleep. We live in a culture making excessive demands on us. We are expressions of organic life, not machines. We can’t switch off at the end of the day. Machines too experience stress and break down.
- Physical aches and pains. This can bring about resistance to exercise, starting an initiative and the mind inflicting on itself self-blame for feeling this way.
What Steps to Take?
SIX IMMEDIATE STEPS TO TAKE IN THE SHORT TERM
Short term might mean a matter of minutes when stress makes an impact on an issue, past, present or future.
- The moment you feel the stress as a feeling/thought/body sensation, you start breathing mindfully in and out, long and deep. You take such breaths for a minute, minutes or longer. You do not give the stress the opportunity to get a grip on you. Your breath interrupts the thoughts and any story feeding the stress. You breathe in slow, long and deep, relaxing on the out breath using a full upright sitting posture.
- Or you change the posture to walking, standing or reclining. You keep mindfully breathe in and out long and deep, remembering to relax on the outbreath. If beneficial, you might take a long walk. You experiment with these postures to see what works for you at different times.
- You wake up every day with a determination to use mindfulness of deep breathing in and out as your primary resources to stay calm and grounded in the vibrancy of the present.
- Take no notice of any internal voice saying you are suppressing how you really feel while mindfully breathing deeply. This is a trick of the ego to keep you stressed out. Lots of relaxation on the outbreath will safeguard you from contractions that build up around stress.
- Breathe in an out through any reactivity, thoughts of self-other blame, stress in a conversation or meeting until you feel you can find enough calm of being. Sharing with others your experience and listening to their experience can make a major difference.
- Afterwards, mindfully experience the fullness of the present and engage in any tasks in a calm, focussed way.
SIX IMMEDIATE STEPS TO TAKE IN THE LONG TERM
Long term means a regular review and reflection in these areas, so the unhealthy aspects do not build up again leading to new waves of stress.
- Stress won’t go away if you don’t do something about it. You may have to consider your relationship with the world around and lifestyle. A major step in the right direction consists of regularly sharing your experiences of daily life with others at home or at work etc. You can learn much from another or a group of people sharing their experience in the physical world or online.
- Do not be taken in with the social myth of self-help. You cannot fly without people who know how to fly an aeroplane. Friendships, networks and empathy with others play a significant role in dissolution of stress.
- Does stress in one area, say work, arise in part due to neglect in other areas outside of work? Are you neglecting home life, family life, friendships, an imaginative lifestyle and contact with nature? What steps are you willing to take?
- Excessive time on Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc drains mental energy and reduces capacity to address daily life issues. Social media means living in a parallel universe, often an addiction to the attention economy. The vibrancy of the real world ends up taking a secondary place to obsession with the screen, fascination with irrelevant information and a contracted mind.
- Creating small changes at home, studies and work can make a real difference. What are the working conditions you need to change? What do you need to change n yourself regarding another? What do you need to develop at home and elsewhere? What are you prepared to give up? Are you willing to develop kindness, creativity and worthwhile values? Do you express love and appreciation to others through your voice, the written word and action?
- Diet, exercise, outdoors, acts of kindness, and creative activities make for a rich and full daily life in the world.
Keep in mind the six steps in the short term and the six steps in the long term.
We have the capacity to lead a stress-free life. This requires mindfulness of what triggers stress and what steps to take to dissolve stress.
If you are hungry, you eat a healthy and nutritious meal. The hunger goes away. It’s the same with stress. You practice dissolving the stress. The stress goes away.
You can support others going through a stressful time.
Practice mindfulness in everyday activities. It is the training ground for seeing the warning lights of stress early.
You then abide with enough mindfulness to catch any stress starting to build. The stress does not take hold.
Your calmness and clarity support your energy, and your energy supports your calmness and clarity.
It is that simple. It is not a big deal.