MANAGING STRESS IN OUR MATURE YEARS
Several decades ago Canadian psychologist, Hans Selye wrote a best-selling book about stress. His perception was, as I recall it, that stress motivates us to do things and is not a bad thing unless we allow ourselves to become distressed. That is perhaps a useful play on words, but I prefer to use the term “desire” rather than stress. In simple terms, if you are thirsty you desire water and you will seek it –- if you are hungry your desire might motivate you to go to your refrigerator.
Some time ago I made a promise to write an article on stress for a professional newsletter. It Is my desire to fulfill my commitment. If I delay or procrastinate in responding to my desire to keep my promise I will probably be stressed or in Selye’s use of words become “distressed.”
If we have that uncomfortable feeling in our gut (fear) it is to alert us that something is amiss. The purpose of this discomfort is to get our attention. If we react to this awareness by becoming stressed you can be sure that we are being moved by ego-based fear. If we continue to entertain fearful thoughts the fear will cause us to become stressed (or in Selye’s opinion distressed).
Step one in the process of overcoming this discomfort is to allow –- or “own” this thought. In the teaching of A Course In Miracles, embrace it.
Please keep one thing in mind: The only place I have real control over my life is my thoughts. If I dwell on my fear-based reaction I am stressed. It is well to remember that the Law of Attraction is very real –- if I continue to entertain fear based thoughts what am I attracting? If I ask, “What can I do about this?” The message here is: I can choose again, replace the fear-based, negative thought with a positive one!
When my discomfort causes awareness that something is “out of kilter” I can choose to respond rather than react. To respond is to thoughtfully think through the situation causing the discomfort and rationally decide what I am going do about it. In Ekhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now is the following process, paraphrased a bit: Accept [allow] whatever is happening as if you had planned it in every detail. Don’t fight it. Work with it, not against it [don’t fear it]. Then, if possible and appropriate take action. This will change your very life.
Many philosophers have told us: The thought is father of the deed. Said another way, once we have accepted any thought as valid the behavior to support it is automatic. If the thought originated as a fear-based reaction –- from stress –- and you continue to entertain it, you will live with more fear-based stress, not less. We can discipline ourselves to choose again. The same psychological dynamic applies to positive (love)-based thoughts -– when we “own” them our behavior will support them!
I have found the following described exercise to be unbelievably useful in helping me decide what I really, really, REALLY desire. When we are actively pursuing a strong desire it is likely that stress will disappear.
I am referring to The Way of Mastery, ( another spiritual self-help book) Chapter 4 -- DESIRE IS EVERYTHING. This exercise also introduces us to the very important element of ALLOWING. The rationale for this exercise is that unless we are absolutely clear on our desire, the second step, intention, will be fuzzy at best and probably impotent -- then the whole thing goes away and we have done nothing to assuage our stress. The other two steps in this process are allowing and surrender.
This is an activity that will enable you to be clearer on your desires than ever before and will only take you about 15 minutes in the morning for 7 mornings - – they need not be consecutive.
· In the morning, after you are fully awake but before beginning your normal activities take a piece of paper and enter the date at the top.
· Next, list 7 things that you really, really desire at that time. They need not be prioritized, just strongly desired.
· Do this for 7 mornings without referring to the previous lists.
· Put the lists in a drawer and do not refer to them until the 8th day.
· On the 8th day take the seven lists (49 desires) and on a separate sheet of paper categorize or “batch” them. (My review of my 47 desires boiled down to just 5. One of them was clearly much more important than the other 4.)
· Decide which desire(s) you choose to bring to reality.
Please come back next week for action steps on HOW to bring your desire(s) to reality.