The effects of stress are many and varied. Sometimes they creep up on us so gradually that we hardly notice their presence until we wake up and find ourselves in the middle of the frying pan.
Then, if we look back, we might wonder how we overlooked all the clues we can now see so easily in hindsight. Most Western minds are programmed to be task-oriented, and we tend to have long To-Do lists.
As a result, we may ignore certain clues that our lives are getting out of balance. But when things start to fall apart, it becomes more difficult to continue sweeping the evidence under the rug.
However, once we acknowledge that we’re feeling stressed out, we have the opportunity to learn some valuable lessons and make a few healthy changes.
This section is about learning the lessons and making those lasting changes that will allow us to create a healthier, more balanced life.
List of Articles
The Art of Being Your Own Best Friend
Cultivating Peace Series
Part 1 – Nature’s Attraction
Part 2 – Cultivating Stillness
part 3 – From Head to Heart
Here’s an article entitled “The Art of Being Your Own Best Friend” you may enjoy. Highly recommended!
Are you hard on yourself at times? Is it difficult for you to make time for exercise, healthy food, or nurturing your spiritual life? Do you take time for yourself to do the things you love to do – those things that feed your soul? What would your life be like if you treated yourself like your own best friend?
- Sharpening Your Saw
- Perpetual Stress
- Being Your Own Best Friend
- How Would Your Life Look and Feel?
- Looking In All the Wrong Places
- Being Your Own Best Friend in the Realm of Your Mind
- Being Your Own Best Friend in Your Relationship with Your Body
- Being Your Own Best Friend in Your Spiritual Life
- What Stops Us From Being Our Own Best Friend?
- Common Beliefs That Get In The Way
- Not Good Enough?
- But I Don’t Have Time!
- Rewriting Your Belief Software
- Self-Care is the Best Health Care
- Making it OK to Have Fun
- It’s Possible!
- How to Practice Being Your Own Best Friend
Click here to read the remainder of the article, or download the pdf file.
(the full article is 6.5 pages printed)
Nature – A Gateway to Inner Peace
© Dane Roubos, D.C.
Most people feel drawn to nature in some way. Some of us are die-hard nature lovers, attracted to anything from a potted plant to a remote, beautiful wilderness. Others may be drawn to a specific aspect of nature; water being the most popular.
What is it about nature that draws us? Exploring this for your self can lead to some valuable insights, so let’s take a look. Take a moment and imagine you’re having your favorite nature experience. Notice the “feeling” that comes when you think of this, and enjoy it for a couple of minutes before we go on.
If you have trouble connecting with a nature memory or visualizing it, try being with the accompanying photo, thinking as little as possible for a minute or two, with the intention of receiving it in your heart. It’s best to do this in a quiet place, without distractions. (Maximizing your browser window might help if you don’t see the whole photo)
Naming the “feeling” is not particularly important, but it’s often described as peace, stillness, unity, joy, love, etc. While all these are pleasurable, I think there is a lot more to our nature attraction than a pleasant feeling.
A Deeper Connection
Throughout our travels and backyard wanderings, Ariel and I have felt we were “feeding our souls” with nature, replenishing something that had been drained away by dealing with life in the complex, and often stressful, “civilized world” of human society.
I believe there’s another aspect of our attraction to, and need for, nature in our lives. Here it is (thunder roll please): consider the possibility that Nature reminds us of aspects of ourselves we’ve lost touch with, or forgotten. In other words, the good feelings we have when we’re around nature are naturally part of who we are. And these feelings, as good as they are, are probably only a faint glimmer of what is really there.
Deep in our soul rests a memory of our connection to Spirit, the Essence of Who We Are, beyond the confines of our body and mind. Here, we are whole and complete, without need for the conditional approval of society.
We embodied this sense of connection as young children, but gradually lost it as we adopted the beliefs of those around us, and learned to see ourselves as separate from God, Nature and each other. Our preoccupation with the growing demands and distractions of the world also drew our attention away from this natural state.
Most of us have forgotten this early experience because of the strength of our developing mind and our culture’s belief in this apparent separation. Spending quiet time with nature is a way to nurture this essential aspect of ourselves; keeping our batteries charged and our hearts connected to what is real and meaningful for us.
Even if you do not resonate with this idea, there are many benefits of spending time with nature in your favorite ways, particularly those which foster slowing your pace and quieting your mind. This, by itself, is known to relieve stress and improve health & well-being. You don’t have to be a card-carrying tree-hugger to receive some goodies from the trees!
Using nature to foster inner peace – a simple practice
The necessary ingredients are:
• A willingness to take time out from your usual activities, and allow yourself to be still.
• A quiet place in natural surroundings – it helps to have a spot or two close to your home where you can easily go for brief periods.
Get comfortable in your chosen spot. If you’re sitting, it helps to have your back straight (rather than slouched), so you can breathe fully and easily. Lying on Mother Earth is a wonderful way to absorb her calming energy. If you’re adventurous, you might enjoy a comfy tree!
Make it your choice to engage with nature for a brief time, instead of the many thoughts that are likely to come, demanding your immediate attention. That stuff can wait 20 minutes, can it not? Use whatever time period works for you – as long as it’s enough for you to slow down and connect. Even five minutes of good nature time can help you settle into a more peaceful space.
Allow your eyes to touch the beauty and life surrounding you, and open your heart as best you can to appreciate what is here in this moment. Absorbing the simple elegance of a flower, cloud or water drop can soothe a stressful situation by bringing you back to the present from anxious thoughts about an imagined future.
No words or mental concepts are required. In fact, words and concepts tend to get in the way of a deeper experience of your heart, which your mind cannot grasp. Your mind can only think about your experience – it cannot have it.
Close your eyes and allow your awareness to drop beneath thought and words. Nature’s sounds or a gentle breeze on your cheek might lull you into stillness. Follow your breathing and simply feel what is in your body, your heart, and the earth upon which you rest. When thoughts come knocking, simply return your awareness to your senses, body and breath.
Give this mini-vacation to yourself as often as you can, and let nature nurture your inner peace!
Peace & Blessings,
Go to: Part 3 – From Head to Heart
In Part 1, we looked at the gift of Nature and her ability to remind us of our own wholeness. Have you noticed anything new as you’ve spent more time with nature?
In this part, we’ll explore stillness, which will build on your experiences with Nature. When our mind slows down, we are more able to be relaxed, spontaneous, and in touch with the One from which we came. But first, we have to get past the “noise” which restricts our access to this natural flow.
We could say there are two types of “noise.” There is outer noise, which we hear with our ears, and inner noise, like the seemingly ceaseless chatter in our mind. This chatter is the product of our ego-minds, the part most of us identify with as “I.” Briefly, this is the “I” that believes it is our body, separate from everything and everyone else; even separate from God.
As part of this “outlook” on life, it generates a more or less continuous stream of judgments (opinions) of ourselves, others, and the world. It is the king/queen of right and wrong (usually assuming it is “right” and others are “wrong”).
Hamsters in Our Head?
This mind chatter can be likened to a crew of hamsters running on their wheels, with the same thoughts coming around again and again. There is constant activity, at least until they wear themselves out and take a little nap. Then they’re right back at it – they love to run on their wheels, especially when we’ve just had an argument with someone, and we’re trying to go to sleep!
We’ve all experienced the ego-mind’s talent for “disturbing the peace,” though there are many times when we are so identified with this “ego-mind” that we can’t step back and see it for what it is. When this occurs, we can only “react” to people and situations, usually in ways we later regret.
Another term that comes to me for this aspect is “amoeba-mind.” Amoebas, those cute little “mindless” blobs crawling around in the pond slime, demonstrate two particular behavior patterns common to humans and other creatures. They are seeking pleasure (or food in their case), and trying to avoid pain. It’s automatic, reactive survival stuff. It works pretty well if you’re an amoeba, but it can really screw things up in the realm of human relationships. You can probably recall an example from your own life in about a millisecond.
Some benefits of cultivating stillness are reduced “foot in mouth” experiences, and an enhanced ability to simply be present in the moment with whatever life sets in front of us, instead of reacting automatically. Stillness also offers the very best in stress reduction, because much of what people usually call stress is generated by our hyperactive hamsters. Now, there’s a scientific definition for you!
The heart creates the most powerful electrical field in the body; much stronger than the brain’s. Stillness fosters harmony between the electrical fields of the heart and brain, which has a calming and healing effect on all the cells of the body. But worried or pissed-off hamsters will discombobulate your energy field in a hurry (more scientific jargon)!
On a spiritual level, if our minds are restless, it’s hard to hear our Creator’s Voice speaking to us. Some refer to this as the “still, small voice within.”
Here is a quote from A Course in Miracles:
“Today He speaks to you. His Voice awaits your silence, for His Word can not be heard until your mind is quiet for a while, and meaningless desires have been stilled. Await His Word in quiet. There is peace within you to be called upon today, to help make ready your most holy mind to hear the Voice for its Creator speak.” (Workbook, p225)
The “most holy mind” referred to here is (I believe) the part of our mind still connected to, and in relationship with God (or The Creator, Spirit, Yahweh, Allah, the Great Mystery, or however you refer to the One from which you came).
The ego-mind (where the hamsters and amoebae live), is the part of our mind that perceives itself as separate from God, nature, and all our brothers & sisters, which creates an endless stream of difficulties.
On a personal level, this may manifest as fear, judgment, frustration, unhappiness, depression, compulsive achievement, greed, conflict in relationships, and other un-pleasantries. As a reflection of mass consciousness on a national or global level, it can become magnified into things like manipulation for power, deception, corporate greed, pollution, injustice, slavery and war.
“So, how do I get some of that stillness?” you ask. Easy, Wal-Mart has it on sale this week! Wait – don’t rush off, I was only kidding! Although if you observe advertising carefully, you will see that “happiness” is on sale almost everywhere, isn’t it? Well, the better you become at practicing stillness, the less susceptible you will be to manipulation by advertising’s little lies. So let’s get on with it!
• Willingness to set aside some time to sit with the likely discomfort of your restless hamsters
• Willingness to just let yourself “Be,” without having to “Do” anything. (Constant doing can be a distraction to avoid uncomfortable feelings that are trying to get a “word” in edgewise)
• A safe, relatively quiet space
A Suggested Practice
- Sit or lie in a comfortable position (no physical suffering required)
- See if you can sense where the majority of your awareness (or energy) is focused in your body. Most of us in Western culture tend to be focused in our heads.
- Gently bring your awareness down into the area deep in the center of your chest, in the area of your upper heart.
- See if you can sense a “resting place” that you “drop into” or where you feel “cozy” or “held” in this area of your body. This place has been said to be our connection with our Soul, or our Creator. Try “nestling in” and see what you feel.
- Let your busy hamsters take a nap. If they get restless, just turn on their TV and bring your focus back to your “resting place.”
If the TV doesn’t work, allow them be restless, without trying to do anything to fix them.
- Simply be present and feel whatever thoughts or feelings come up for you without giving it words or explanation (stories from the mind).
- The trick is to be a neutral observer of your thoughts or emotions, without getting caught up in them. Let them rest in the spaciousness of your heart, without resistance or engagement, and see/feel what happens.
- When (not if) you find yourself caught up in something, simply let it go, and return your awareness to your heart.
- If you are so inclined, you can ask to feel your Soul or your Creator holding you now.
- Hang out here as long as you like, as you keep bringing your awareness gently back to your “resting place” whenever you get distracted. This may occur every 10 seconds or so in the beginning (not kidding now).
- Notice how you feel when you’re done.
In your daily life:
Give this gift to yourself as often as you can, and notice how your mood and life experiences change as a result. The more you practice over time, the better you’ll feel, and the easier it will be to deal with normally stressful life situations. You are literally creating a new way of being in the world.
When you find yourself “rushing” (in your mind or body), notice how you feel inside when you’re in that mode. Compare this to the feeling you experience when you’ve settled into a nice stillness place. Is rushing a “well-oiled” groove you slip into? If so, what’s the rush? Really, what’s the rush? You can create a new “habit” of Inner Peace.
Notice the pattern of your thoughts when your amoeba-mind is jumping up and down, or hyperactive hamsters grab your attention away from the present moment. Make note of any familiar themes, and see if you can discern their source in your mind (e.g: fear-based beliefs, judgments of yourself or others, etc)
Let yourself take a time-out to step back, observe, and then make a new choice. This will take some practice, so don’t give up! (Hey, I’m still practicing!)
PS – If you feel you don’t have time to practice stillness, you will find this article helpful:
The Art of Being Your Own Best Friend
Go to: Part 1 - Nature’s Attraction
Go to: Part 3 – From Head to Heart
In Part 2 we talked about Stillness, and placing your attention in your heart area (about in the center of your chest) as a way of calming the mind chatter that “disturbs your peace.” Perhaps this worked well for you and you are still happily “hearting” away. Or perhaps you tried it a couple of times and gave up or forgot about it because the results were not instantaneous or earth-shaking.
This is understandable because it is not an easy thing to do. The mind doesn’t want to focus its attention on the heart; it would rather spin its wheels and continue thinking it’s the one in charge; the one with all the right answers. If the truth be known, these lower minds of ours don’t care for this “stillness” business, and see no point in it.
In case your mind is having a little trouble remembering what stillness is good for, here’s a refresher: Stillness creates a calming and healing effect on all the cells of the body, offering the very best in stress reduction. Practicing stillness helps reduce automatic reactions to people and events and supports you in being calmly present in the moment.
Stillness allows an opportunity for our Creator’s Voice to get a Word in edgewise. And if that isn’t enough, practicing stillness helps those restless hamsters of yours to chill out. If your response is, “What hamsters?” please review Part 2.
Living from Our Head
Most of us in “civilized” culture have the long-standing habit of trying to run our lives from our heads – trying to figure it all out in advance. It is a pie-in-the-sky notion that doesn’t work very well in actuality. But we keep trying anyway because it is the only way we know, and we know it so well.
This is not to discredit all the contributions the mind has made to humanity over the centuries. It is important, however, to acknowledge what occurs when the mind, like a King without a Queen, refuses to share its dominion with the heart. All masculine (mind) without the balance of the feminine (heart) makes Jack a dangerous boy (or Jill a dangerous girl).
It looks to me like the mess we’ve created in the world is the direct result of too much head and not enough heart. In our attempts to control nature and other people, all manner of technological wonders have been created. Technology (mind) without compassion (heart) doesn’t usually solve the problems it purports to solve, and actually creates new problems, which the mind then rides out on its white horse again to try to fix.
Examples of this principle include things like bombs, chemicalized agriculture with genetically modified crops, building cities protected by levees, and drugs like thalidomide (caused birth defects). They appear to offer a solution in the short term, but eventually contribute to more (and usually bigger) problems in the future.
Not that you should immediately bring your mind in to the nearest recycling center – it does come in handy for such things as remembering where you left your car keys and balancing your checkbook, not to mention running a computer. As some wise person once said, “Don’t leave home without it!” (maybe that was an American Express card? Anyway, you get the idea.)
The trick is to use our heart and mind in balance when we are going about our daily activities and making choices each moment that will affect our future. This balance is particularly important when it comes to our relationship with ourselves, each other and with God. I will say more about this in a moment, but first I have a quick experiment for you.
A Brief Experiment
Take a moment right now and notice where the center of your awareness is in your body. Where does your primary sense of “I” or “me” live in your body? Hint: you are probably not sitting on it – but if you are, then drop your computer and go see your therapist immediately! Seriously, just bring your attention inside, and see where “you” live in there. If you’re not sure where you feel your awareness centered, check in at other times during the day and you will begin to get a sense of it.
If you can’t feel anything, there is a 99.99% probability that you are mostly centered in your head. Don’t worry – while it may be terminal if left to its own devices, it’s not incurable!
By now, you’ve probably discovered the secret location to be . . . (surprise!) in your head (unless you are a hormone-charged teenager, in which case it might be somewhere else . So what does this have to do with your life and your relationships?
Think of a recent time when you reacted in a negative or hurtful way to someone you love – something you were sorry for later (this is usually a no-brainer for most of us). Got one? Good! Now, see if you can recall, or sense, where you were “coming from” in your body at that moment. Was it head, heart?
If something “goes wrong” in your relationship with another, or you’re “beating yourself up” over something, you’re most likely coming from your head (or ego-mind), and you’re experiencing the results of action taken without consulting your heart. Said another way, a lot of suffering is created by the mind acting on its own, without the heart’s harmonizing influence.
So, how do you apply this wisdom in your daily life? As you have no doubt already discovered, it’s not an easy thing to change the head habit! But I’m here to tell you that if heart-centerd living is something you really want, it will gradually come to you with persistent practice. I’ve been consciously working on it for many years, and it gradually keeps getting better. Here are some suggestions.
- Practice bringing your awareness/attention into your heart area as often as you can think of it throughout the day (or night).
- When you go into prayer or meditation, see if you can enter into this space from your heart. If your relationship with your Creator is more conceptual (thinking), see if you can “feel” the Creator’s presence in your heart, and/or pray from your heart.
- When you feel stressed in any way (any time you feel the slightest bit of emotional discomfort), remember to bring your awareness into your heart and hold it there for a while. A new insight may come to you as you do this.
- When you feel the urge to blurt out something hurtful, or do anything you’ll later regret, do your best to:
- Recognize that something painful in you is being triggered (and that whatever you’re thinking will seem completely “justified”).
- Keep your mouth shut and your hands to yourself. If possible, remove yourself from the situation and find a place where you can “be still.”
- Bring your awareness into your heart (and keep bringing it back to your heart when your mind starts arguing). Keep your awareness in your heart until you feel your balance returning.
- Be aware of energy (emotions) in other parts of your body as well. The solar plexus or gut area is a common place to feel this. The key is to simply view the emotion as energy, while letting go of any “story” attached to it. Feel it and allow it to move without physically acting on it, or making it up into something it’s not. An example of a story might be anything that makes you or another other person out to be the bad one, or wrong in some way. Such stories keep the “problem” anchored in place.
- Ask your Higher Power to show you what your own inner needs are (that are not being met), and to guide you in healing your own pain.
Number 4 is usually a real challenge. Yet, with persistence , it will allow you to gradually open up your heart and bring enough healing to those painful parts to soothe their reactive nature. It will help you gain mastery over those old reactive patterns that have caused mischief in your life. And yes, it will help you find more stillness, peace and love, and to share it with others – the stuff that really matters in life!
Please seek professional assistance if you are stuck in a pattern that holds any violence to yourself or others, or if the emotions coming to the surface seem too big to handle on your own.
May you be well, be happy, and be in your heart!
Go to: Part 1 – Nature’s Attraction
Dane Roubos, D.C. www.BodyMindPeace.com
Describes how stress works, and reveals little-known causes of stress which do their mischief behind the scenes. Empowering information gives you the tools you need to create your own oasis of peace. It’s not a quick fix, but if you make the commitment to yourself, the results will last a lifetime.
The purpose of this article is three-fold:
- To give you some background on stress and it’s basic causes
- To alert you to other causes which are not yet part of mainstream thinking
- To offer empowering resources to assist you in reducing stress in your life, and optimizing your response to it
“The trouble with being in the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat!”Lily Tomlin
Stress seems ever-present in our lives today. Exploring the hidden nature of stress and its many causes can help us to recognize its signs and take more appropriate and effective action to restore balance in our lives.
While I don’t consider myself an expert on stress, I’ve learned a lot through my personal life experience, and through working with many people who were struggling with its effects. I’ll be sharing several important, but little-known, stress factors that could make a big difference for you or someone you love. I suggest that you simply take what works for you and leave the rest.
Some Conditions Caused by, or Worsened by Stress:
- Heart disease
- Digestive problems
- Sleep problems
- Autoimmune diseases
- Skin conditions, such as eczema
Your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes, traumas, and life experiences directly influence your biology. We know that stress and other psychological factors can have a major impact on your health. Now we understand that 95% of all illnesses are either caused by or worsened by stress.
The UltraMind Solution, by Mark Hyman, M.D.
What is Stress?
The term, “Stress” means different things to different people, and has multiple definitions which apply to various branches of science. In this article, I’m speaking about mental-emotional distress and the body’s response to it.
To begin, my basic definition of stress will be: “our mental, emotional or physical response to challenging events or situations in our lives.” Later, we’ll modify this to incorporate a new understanding.
Common Signs & Symptoms of Stress
Seeing or focusing only on the negative
Anxious or racing thoughts
Irritability or short temper
Agitation, unable to relax
Sense of loneliness and isolation
Depression or general unhappiness
Aches and pains
Diarrhea or constipation
Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
Loss of sex drive
Frequent colds or infections
Eating more or less than usual
Sleeping too much or too little
Isolating yourself from others
Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)
Source: HelpGuide.org http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_signs.htm
What Causes Stress?
Stress is commonly thought to caused by external forces, such as our boss, spouse, mother-in-law, or the IRS. (Nobody mentions tigers much these days). We may feel overwhelmed or threatened by people or circumstances in our lives.
External factors are really just the tip of the iceberg – the superficial viewpoint. While not insignificant, they mostly act as “triggers” that set off our internal (and automatic) stress-making machinery.
In Part I, we’ll focus on how external events trigger the cascading stress response in our body.
In subsequent parts, we’ll explore the subtle network of thoughts, beliefs, perception, and chemical-nutritional influences that determine the nature of the interactive playing field where your game of life is played.
In turn, the nature of this playing field determines how the events in your life affect you in terms of stress. It can even determine whether a challenging life event brings you to your knees, or catapults you to a whole new way of being in the world.
At the end of each part, I’ll offer suggestions and other resources to assist you in your personal journey with stress in your life.
How Does Stress Work?
Episode 1 – Vacation in India
Let’s imagine you’re on vacation in India, walking along the edge of the jungle in a grassy area, daydreaming about that attractive person you met at the coconut stand this morning. Suddenly you see the proverbial Bengal tiger bounding through the grass, straight toward you and closing fast. Nah, that isn’t scary enough – let’s say it’s a real Bengal tiger! Most everyone would agree that this was a stressful situation, right?
In the milliseconds that follow, your subconscious mind transmits an urgent alert to your adrenal glands via your sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight part) to release a healthy dose of adrenaline into your blood stream, pronto!
Slammed back into the present moment by the sight of the tiger, you feel the jolt of adrenaline coursing through your arteries. Your heart rate, blood pressure and respiration surge, and glucose is released into your blood as emergency fuel.
Blood flow diverts from your digestive tract to your muscles for drastic action. You experience a real-life “Oh, shit!” moment, as your bowel and bladder lighten their loads. Oops!
But you barely notice. Blood has also been diverted from your conscious, thinking cortex to your subconscious primitive brain stem for rapid, programmed survival instincts to take over.
Your next thought, if you can manage one, is likely to be, “RUN!!!” In fact, you discover your body is already running, having decided not to wait around for you to make up your mind.
And forget that romantic spiritual stuff about “becoming the tiger,” because you’re certifiably freaked out and running like you’ve never run before. In fact, you’ve never felt this strong before.
You sneak a glance backwards and see he’s only 20 feet away, bounding directly toward you. Realizing that running is hopeless, in a moment of bravery you stop to face him.
He’s right behind you, launching into a powerful leap with a heart-stopping roar . . . 500 pounds of muscle, fangs and claws are hurtling forward . . . you fall backward . . . as the 9 foot long tiger sails gracefully over your sprawling body and bounds off into the jungle in pursuit of that hot babe he spotted a minute ago!
You see, he wasn’t even hungry, having just eaten Ronald McDonald at the hamburger stand in the local village a little while ago. He was just looking for a party . . . but being a practical joker, he thought he’d give you a little thrill along the way.
Heart still racing, and body trembing, it takes you a few minutes to begin to calm down. You replay the “movie” in your mind, but that doesn’t help matters. So you stumble to your feet and head back to the village, casting furtive glances over your shoulder.
The mess in your pants gradually comes to conscious awareness, along with a strong urge for a beer, well, maybe a six-pack. At some point, it occurs to you that it might be a good idea to stop at your room and get cleaned up before going to the bar.
Sorry I had to put you through all that, but you know what they say, “Experience is the best teacher!” While probably not “up there” with an Indiana Jones movie, hopefully it gave you a better understanding of how your natural stress response was designed to work as a survival mechanism. Perhaps you even had a bonus chuckle or two.
Let’s rejoin our hero/heroine now, for a look at the type of stress most of us are familiar with . . .
Episode 2 – Back at the Office
Having had the “time of your life” in India, you’re relieved to touch down back home, far away from pesky tigers. Things are different here, in the concrete jungle.
It’s your first day back at work in the ad business, and you’re hoping it will take your mind off those recurrent nightmares of the tiger leaping at you. Before long, you get your wish, at least temporarily.
Your boss calls you into her office. She explains that business has been slowing down, and the president has decided to downsize the company. Twenty percent of the employees are being laid off. She pauses.
You feel a slightly nauseous as your gut turns over and a few drops of sweat drip from your armpits. Your palms feel moist, and you realize you’re holding your breath.
“We’d like you to stay,” she says, “But the hours will be longer, and for the same salary. You can think it over and let me know tomorrow.” She gives you a sheet with the details and ends the meeting.
Back at your cubicle, you find it hard to concentrate on your work. The knot in your stomach has eased, you’re no longer sweating, and you feel relieved, relatively speaking.
But you’re already working 50-hour weeks, which is putting a strain on your relationship. And the prospects of looking for a new job in a dismal market is no more appealing. “I should be grateful to have this job,” you tell yourself, but somehow you find it difficult to feel that way.
Your “inner critic” is giving you a lecture, letting you know in no uncertain terms that you’re a weakling, and don’t really deserve to keep your job anyway, nor your relationship for that matter . . . “Oh, shut up!” you mutter, as you reach for the phone to make an appointment with your therapist.
You’ve been at this job for nearly ten years now, with only two weeks off each year. You’re 36 years old, and feeling like 50. You’re already taking pills for blood pressure and cycling through alternating constipation and diarrhea. Not only that, but you’ve been loosing your sex drive, which isn’t helping the relationship, either.
You have to take a sleeping pill to get any rest that night, and wake up with a nasty headache. You decide to see your doctor, before anything else goes wrong.
Your doctor is very understanding, as he writes you a prescription for an increase in your blood pressure meds and some Valium, as needed. He tells you it’s “just stress,” and recommends that you “take it easy,” and to see your therapist on a regular basis for a while.
The pills relieve the intensity, but something still doesn’t feel right. You’re tired before you even get out of bed in the morning. You’ve taken to checking under the bed at night, to make sure the tiger isn’t there. Sometimes you feel a bit disappointed when you don’t see it – you’d almost prefer the tiger to this . . .
Yes, it’s a made-up story, to illustrate an important point and do a little teaching. You now have a sense of our built-in survival stress response. It’s designed to deal with dangerous situations we would commonly encounter in a more primitive world.
Wild animals still live like this every day, and so do we, in a way. Living in our concrete jungle instead of a natural one still exacts a heavy toll on our mind and body. The difference is that most of the stress in our modern world is much more subtle than a tiger leaping at you.
You can still encounter the concrete jungle’s equivalent of a hungry tiger, like a street gang, other human predators, or war. Most of us experience milder challenges on a frequent or constant basis. It “comes with the territory” of being a human on Planet Earth.
Instead of bam, you’re done, it’s the slow torture of constant pressure wearing us down. Some of us seem to have more than our share of pressure, and others less. It’s only a matter of degree.
Even though there is no tiger under our bed, our sensitive nervous system is perceiving danger, and acting accordingly. Our adrenal glands are still secreting stress hormones, and our body is following their orders. The results are not as obvious, but they are occurring to some degree in each of us, nonetheless.
Our unhappy hero/heroine is teetering on the brink of adrenal exhaustion (or some other catastrophe), when our adrenal glands can no longer deal with the demands we place on them. When that occurs, we no longer have a choice. We have to rest, because there is not enough energy to do anything else.
How to Cook a Frog (or Stress a Human)
You’ve probably heard the story of the frog in a pot of water on the stove. I can’t imagine doing this experiment myself, but apparently someone did, and here’s what happens. If the water is heated slowly, the frog doesn’t notice until it’s too late, and it can no longer leap out of the pot!
The hapless frog can serve as a metaphor for you or I, and humanity as a whole. These are times of increasing personal, cultural and environmental stress. The complexity of our life and the extent of our commitments often increase gradually, and we adapt to the hotter water. If we’re paying attention, however, our cerebral cortex can grok (comprehend) the situation, and where it will likely lead us. With that awareness, we can choose one fork in the road, or the other:
- We can choose to ignore the warning signs, and greatly increase our risk of winding up with one or more stress-related illnesses.
- Or, we can wake up to the reality of our situation and make a course correction. We can start by taking better care of ourselves. I think it was Mark Victor Hansen who said, “If we don’t take time for health, we will eventually have to take time for disease.”
We don’t have be victims of stress. We have the power of choice. We can say “No” to certain things, and “Yes!” to others. When the choice is hard, it helps to remember what our choices are.
In the hundreds of choices we make every day, we are literally choosing between health and disease; life and death. But because so many of these choices are little ones, they seem trivial at the time.
“Disease starts out humbly in the body as some imperceptible imbalance, and proceeds slowly from there. The outcome of a full-blown disease may be devastating, but it has been built up through insignificant everyday actions.
What we eat and drink, how we behave, how our emotions affect us – these are small things. When they support well-being, we don’t give them a second thought.
But no action is lost on the body. We are always building. Every bite of food, every breath, every thought, is like laying a brick, even if we aren’t aware that we are building.”
Deepak Chopra, Return of the Rishi, pp 91-92
We often make crucial choices unconsciously, by default. This happens when we’re not aware that we even have a choice, or cannot see the path of possibilities before us.
We can make a commitment to “waking up,” to becoming aware of our choices, and where each choice will likely lead us. We can ask Spirit for clarity and guidance when we face tough choices. We can also ask for the strength to follow our heart and walk down the path we intuitively know is best for us.
Conscious choice is the most powerful tool we have to change our lives for the better, and it works on all levels. I consider it a Divine Gift, and I’m hoping you can see it that way, too.
Recommended article: The Art of Being Your Own Best Friend. It will help you in your choice-making!
How Stress Happens – Part 2 will continue where this leaves off. We’ll begin exploring the powerful hidden causes of stress: our thoughts and beliefs. I refer to them as “hidden causes” because they are rarely acknowledged as factors that contribute to our stress load. Please stay tuned!
To learn about an effective way to change subconscious limiting beliefs, see the short article on PSYCH-K.