It’s a single, seemingly harmless word but it invokes potent emotions: fear, failure, pressure, anxiety and more. All are powerful, and all of them negative.
“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” ~ Wayne W. Dyer
We have been conditioned to view stress as detrimental to our life and health, whether it’s mental, emotional or physical. We have been taught to fear stress and to remove it as quickly as we can. If it doesn’t go away, we must go at it like battering rams, fighting the stress itself while producing guilt for failing to remove it.
Stress takes on a life of its own. It is a malleable, changing creature. Stress is sensitive to our thoughts and behaviors and it slowly covers us with a finely woven net of frustration and despair. We end up battling stress itself rather than focusing on its root cause. It is a distraction preventing us from solving our problems.
In the last few weeks, I was hit with two stressful events—problems at work and problems with my car. Then, suddenly, the stress escalated. I became stressed that I wasn’t exercising enough and making bad eating choices. I became stressed because I wanted to just sit and read a book, but I felt like I needed to clean the house and cook dinner instead. I became stressed because I felt like I was the only one closing the window blinds at night. Yes, that’s right. I was stressed about window blinds.
That’s how stress works. It begins with one thing, and when we don’t get right down to the cause and take care of it, it begins to sneak into other things. Eventually the small things that we would never think about twice become the reason why we suddenly burst into tears or begin snapping at people we love.
The problem with stress lies in our conditioning. It’s in the “agreement” we made that stress is a negative thing and must be demolished instantly or else we are to blame for its existence. The agreement says we “shouldn‘t let stress get to us.”
Actually, it’s all based on our reaction.
There is such a thing as positive stress, also known as eustress, as opposed to distress, which is negative stress. But before we start happily categorizing everything into eustress and distress, we have to analyze our own karma. How we react is our karma.
Stress has been shown to give us a burst of energy, that little bit of motivation we’ve been waiting for to finally tackle an issue head on. Who of us works best under pressure? I know there’s quite a few out there who excel in beating the deadline, myself included.
And speaking of deadlines, all it denotes is stress, but we finally get that kick in our butt to finish stuff that would otherwise get put off. Butterflies in our stomach before we go on stage? We end up giving the best performance ever.
That stress biologically puts our bodies and minds into high drive, pushing us to give our best, igniting our fight or flight instinct in every situation. Likewise, when we react negatively toward something, it will rebound to us in a negative way.
Stress also forces us to think. Have an issue without an obvious solution? Or time-tested answers just don’t work? Now, we have to think creatively. We have to reach into the back of our minds to come up with something. We have to go find people to talk to, to help us, to give us new perspectives.
If we continue to do the same old things over and over, we’ll never progress further than where we are now. Just think about the definition of insanity.
Stress forces us to spin the world as we know it on its head and start looking at things from a new angle. It’s how we continue to survive and create evolutionary changes in our society and species.
Instead of dwelling on the negative, a subconscious action that escalates stress, we have to begin looking for the positive outcomes, otherwise known as the silver lining in things. Lose a job? Now’s the chance to find something that fits what we want and need better. It’s not making light of a devastating event if we choose to “look on the bright side.” It’s essential to our survival.
Sometimes people tend to shut down completely. We become so overwhelmed that we turn into zombies going through our routine on auto-pilot. This happens in extreme times of distress, such as death or divorce. Our reaction still counts here.
Death of a loved one is an exceptionally stressful event, but we have to remain aware of our process of grief. Instead of allowing subconscious actions to come in, causing us to fall into a doldrum-like state of depression, we need to constantly be conscious of our karma, to continue living, functioning and protecting ourselves.
Let’s cultivate karuna—compassion, ahimsa—kindness, and patience. Allow ourselves to guiltlessly experience our emotions, grief, pain and sadness due to a stressful event. Give up a day or two to work through it in whatever way we feel we need—sleep, food, friends and family or escape.
Then practice aparigraha—non-attachment. We let go of that distress and transform it into a tool for us to progress and develop. We have complete control over our karma, all based on how we choose to react.
Change our reaction, and we will turn stress from a negative, harmful experience to positive, progressive growth.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editorial Assistant: Pamela Mooman / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: elephant journal archives