I do, I do, I do, and so does every other living creature. Stress is simply the physiological and mental response to the environment and situation you find yourself in. Simple!
Stress is not only a fact of life, it is life. Stress becomes a problem though when the amount of stress we face goes beyond the limit of our coping abilities.
How well you cope with stress matters.
A few years ago, I was experiencing some serious medical problems. At the time, I was going through every medical test known to mankind and stressed out. Stressed out!
At one of my many appointments, a medical technician looked at me and said “You need to go take a mindfulness stress management course.” What! I figured it was a nice way of saying that I am a hypochondriac and beyond help. It did make me think though…
Was I stressed out because I was having medical problems or what I having medical problems because I was stressed out?
I decided to do a little investigation into mindfulness based stress reduction on my own and I did learn that it does have “medical applications.” One of the practices of MBSR is meditation. I figured, that’s easy. I can do that. I had my own impressions of what mediation was and how it is done. I figured the goal of meditation was empty my mind and I found it impossible and frustrating to quiet my overactive brain. I failed miserably and felt more stressed out than ever. I gave up and life went on.
Fast forward a few years and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed and thinking to myself that there has to be a better way. I enrolled in the 8 week MBSR course and completed it a few weeks ago. It was a group class and it focused on the stress response, mediation and yoga-like movement. I am still trying to noodle over what I learned there but here is what I know so far:
Someone has more stress than you do.
Some of the people in my class were in the midst of a hard-core personal crisis. Major grief, end of life issues that made my situation look like rainbows and unicorns. There is much I should be grateful for.
Being in the present moment is hard.
Part of mindfulness is staying rooting in or arriving in the present moment. I was shocked at how much time my mind spends ruminating about the past and fretting about the future and completely oblivious to what is happening right now. The past is gone. You can learn from it but you can’t change it. The future will come no matter what you do. Prepare for it but don’t let it steal from today. I have to work on this very hard but it is worth it, when it happens.
One of the simplest exercises to bring yourself into the present moment is to focus on your breath. The goal is not to change it, or evaluate it but just to notice it. How does it feel to breath? Focus on your breathing for a few minutes to calm an overactive mind.
Mindful Mediation is not about an empty brain
What a relief. Thoughts happen and you can acknowledge them and let them go.
Guided meditation helps busy minds.
I recommend guided mediation to help focus on the present. iTunes has oodles of free guided meditation sessions if you would like to try it.
Meditation is a practice.
Mindful meditation is like a muscle – you need to practice and do it regularly to see the benefits. You are rewiring your brain and developing new thought habits. It takes time. I am still very much a beginner and I have to work hard to make time to practice.
Kindness feels good.
You can be kind to yourself and nobody needs to know. When you are in the middle of some nasty self-talk ask yourself if you would ever offer the same criticism to others that you give yourself. If no, tell your self-critic, “thanks for visiting but I have other things to do now.” Be kind to yourself as you would be kind to others.
Stick your neck out.
I was surprised to learn that the most vulnerable part of the human body is the neck. We have some pretty important networks running through that part of our body and it is weak and not well protected. It is instinct to protect it when we are threatened, usually by pulling up our shoulders. Doing this reinforces the message to our brain that we are in danger and it sets of an escalating stress response. Pull your shoulders down! Stick your neck out. You will feel better and stronger. Watch people in stressful situations. They will be pulling their shoulders up, cupping and touching their necks. Notice photographs of people in power. Politicians, military, policing, and fighters – their head is held high exposing their neck. It is a show of confidence and power.
Check in with yourself.
Life can be hectic and we get caught up in our daily routines and drift into autopilot. I have found it helpful to pause now and then and ask myself how I am doing. This does a couple of things. One, it pulls me out of autopilot mode and really consider what is really going on in the present moment and I can reassure myself that there is no crisis, no sabre-tooth tiger about the pounce on me and that everything is really ok.
Denial is my go-to coping strategy.
My biggest a-ha moment came during one of our class exercises. We were asked to talk about one difficult moment we had to deal with during the week. I had nothing. No stressful situations, no conflicts, nothing that upset me. The facilitator looked at me and said,
“You can’t think of one thing that happened to you this week that was even mildly uncomfortable?”
Me – “Um, no.”
Facilitator -“ Well that is something for you to think long and hard about.”
And shortly after the heavens opened and angels sang and I had a realized something profound; I will do just about anything to avoid dealing with thing I find even mildly unpleasant. Ignore it, procrastinate, deny its existence, tell myself that I am exercising the power of positive thinking, lie to myself. It is a strategy that works, initially at least. In the long run, your mind or subconscious really knows and there is only such much denial it can take. You must deal with things.
What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” ~~~Carl Jung
I have lots of work to do.
I wish I could share some profound insight into how this relates to money but I am not there yet. I have some fuzzy sense that money can be a source of pain and a source of comfort. It can help and it can harm. It can be an enabler and it can be abused. You can have a dysfunctional relationship with it.
Where do healthy money attitudes and habits end and neurosis begin? I do not know.
I do know that I am glad that I took the course. I learned a lot. I have noticed positive changes in how I am feeling and how I am coping with stress. I would recommend it to others. Maybe some insights about money will come. Until then, thanks for reading and I hope everyone is managing their stress in a healthy way.