Someone asked me, “What kind of things can you do to de-stress?”
It sounds like a common question. Who has never experienced stress? From dealing with a project behind schedule, adjusting with a new job, having a newborn baby to organizing a family trip.
There is nothing wrong with managing stress. But what if instead of dealing with the effect of stress, we focus on preventing it?
In some way, the underlying idea of stress management is based on a reactive solution, which to control a person’s level of stress. Just like the way modern society tends to treat health symptoms – Got a headache? Easy. Take a painkiller pill.
Stress is Like Fighting a Forest Fire.
In a forest fire, when the flame starts, you may be able to stop it with big buckets of water – that if you are aware when it begins. When it spreads long enough, big buckets of water are insufficient. You need a large team of firefighters to handle the fire from the sky and the ground.
It takes much more energy to de-stress when you are already in constant stress.
If you are in constant stress, like a forest fire, managing it means making sure the fire does not spread.
But, what if you can create an inner climate and vegetation that are always moist and cool? Enough rain, enough sunlight.
The answer is to focus on building an inner condition so that if you are affected by a stressful situation, you can quickly return to your homeostasis state. The moist and balance climate you create within you will not allow the fire to last long or cause further damage.
The way to create a stable inner climate is to understand where your stressful experience comes from.
Stress has a Home, Do You Know the Address?
Everyone I talk to, friends, colleagues, and coaching clients, has one thing in common when they describe their stress. They point at a situation that challenges them.
“My manager keeps giving me additional work to complete with a ridiculous deadline.”
“I have so many things to do. I am overwhelmed.”
These statements have an underlying similarity – a stressful situation causes stress.
From the surface, It seems true. But why the same stressful situation doesn’t always affect people the same way?
It turns out, the world we perceive through our senses is not the real world.
In his book, Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently, Beau Lotto, a neuroscientist, stated human beings don’t have access to an accurate perception of reality. Our brain constructs the images we see mostly from the information it already possesses.
In his essay, Anil Seth, another neuroscientist who focuses on human perception and consciousness, wrote, “What we see, hear and feel are nothing more than the brain’s best guesses of what’s out there.”
He explained the brain is locked inside a bony skull.
It has never seen the light, never touched any objects, never tasted any food. All it does is sensing the signals received from the sensory system, associates them with prior experiences, and ‘beliefs’ about the way the world is and creates optimal hypotheses.
In other words, our experience comes from the inside-out, not outside-in. We feel stress because we think fearful thoughts. We feel joy because we think uplifting thoughts.
The brain doesn’t distinguish reality from imaginary. Things you think from the past or future can make you worry or stress as if it happens right now.
You create your own reality by the way your brain works.
Your stress happens and lives inside. If you want to change the temperature of your home, first locate the thermostat that controls your home cooling system – Not waiting for the weather outside to change. Your stress thermostat is inside, mostly in a form of thought induced fear, judgement and expectation.
The Inside-Out Understanding that Changes Everything
Because your experience comes from the inside out, you are no longer can hold anyone responsible for your feelings, including your stress.
Here is how inside-out understanding changes the way I deal with stress:
I no longer focus on what I can’t control.
I can’t change people or the circumstances, but I can change the way I think of them.
Because of the way I think change, the way I feel and respond to the situation change.
Because of my response changes, people react to me differently.
I take responsibility for my experience and my feelings. They are part of being alive.
I become more aware of my thoughts and feelings.
When I start feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, or frustrated, I observe my thoughts, rather than trying to cope. By realizing that I am not my thought, I usually can see the story I made up in my mind that cause the feeling.
I’m no longer afraid of my own experience.
I know my experience is just coming from my thoughts at the moment.
Worrying about the past or future can’t predict my future.
My insecure thoughts can’t change who I am. How I think of myself at the moment can’t affect my true self-worth.
If I don’t like how it feels, I can change it to the way I want to feel.
If I can’t change it, it’s OK too. Like a cloud, it will pass.
I’m no longer worry about people’s perception of me.
As I understood how my thoughts and feelings work, I can see people’s fear, insecurity, beliefs play a vital role in creating their reaction and less to do with me.
I don’t get stressed easily.
No more forest fire. When I face a stressful situation, the inside-out understanding helps me return quickly to my homeostasis state.
As Syd Banks said, “Thought is not reality, yet it is through Thought that our realities are created…If the only thing people learned was not to be afraid of their experience, that alone would change the world.”
It’s true, sometimes difficult situation is inevitable. But rather than trying to control it from the outside, you can shape it from the inside. The key is to realize your thoughts are malleable and what you think and feel is NOT You. You are not your experience. You are the one who see.
If the reality we live in is the brain’s best guess of what’s out there, why not change your best guess to serve your well-being?
Practice: To Be More Aware of Your thoughts and See Them as They are
Observe the moment when you feel stressed, are there any thoughts around expectations? Beliefs? Fear? Once you identify them, imagine looking at them from a distance without judgment, as if you are witnessing them. Play with the idea you are not your thoughts nor feelings and see how your experience changes.
One More Thing
I created a 3-Part Mini Video Series for you: ‘Freedom From Mental Block: Uncover 3 Thinking Habits that Cause Stress’