It is so easy to get stressed these days. Watching the news makes you stressed. Checking the weather makes you stressed. Then there are the thousand shocks you must bear in going about your daily life: You are driving and someone cuts you off. Your boss barks at you. The salespeople are surly. You can't reach a human on the phone. And just before the deadline, your computer crashes.
The problem is that, as soon as you get stressed, your mental reaction to the stress may not help matters.
MISGUIDED STRESS TACTIC: Attempting to Remove the Cause
You might, for example, think that in order to reduce your stress, you have to eliminate the perceived cause of your stress. So you start thinking, stressfully, about all the things you can do to remove that cause. But whatever is stressing you may be something that you can't change anytime soon. It might even be something that is completely out of your control. And so, in the short term, thinking in this way can make you more stressed.
MISGUIDED STRESS TACTIC: Blaming Someone Else
Or you might indulge yourself in a little blame riff—you blame the stress on your boss, the traffic, your children, your karma. But even in those cases in which your stress was clearly caused by someone else—the careless waiter spilling hot tea on your new dress, for example—blaming doesn't do much to relieve the stress. Once the stress is lodged with you, it's your problem.
MISGUIDED STRESS TACTIC: Gazing Wistfully at a Stress-Free Future
Another common reaction to stress is to fantasize about being completely free of stress someday or somewhere. You imagine being nice and relaxed as soon as you meet your deadline, or as soon as you get home from work, or on the weekend, or when the kids grow up, or when you retire—but not, of course, right now. Or you fantasize about being completely unstressed at the yoga studio, the gym, the spa, the beach, the bar—but not, of course, right here.
Why None of These Work
Unfortunately, none of these strategies helps you get unstressed quickly. They are just various ways of deferring or postponing your relief from stress. And by deferring, you just condemn yourself to staying stressed right now. You also condemn the environment you are in right now—your home, your office, your school, your city—to remaining a stressful place.
Join me in taking a small but significant step in stopping stress in its tracks—right here, right now. No matter what is happening around you, you always have the option to experience it from a more peaceful state of mind. And no matter how stressful the situation, being stressed about it is just not a very effective way to deal with it. And almost every stressful situation would be improved if you took a moment to unstress yourself.
- Reframe the experience of stress. Consider the fact that you are stressed to be an invitation to unstress yourself immediately. So instead of playing the blame game, or trying to eliminate the "cause" of your stress, or deferring stress relief to another time, consider the fact that you are stressed to be the single urgent issue. And that you can do something about it.
- Turn down the volume on your own stressed-out mind right away. It doesn't matter if you relieve your stress completely. Just turn down the volume a little. Some things to try to do this:
- Take a moment to meditate
- Sing a song
- Dance a dance
- Run around the block
- Beat your chest and yell like Tarzan
- Force a belly laugh
None of these things takes much time. But any one of them will help you to reduce the amount of stress that gets lodged in your body, your voice, and your mind.
When you have taken responsibility for your stress, and done something about it immediately, you are able to greet the next moment with fresh eyes. You can free the future from the stress of your past.
All it takes is a simple decision: The stress stops here.
Martin Boroson is the author of "One-Moment Meditation: Stillness for People on the Go" and the creator of OMM365, an e-training course that takes a gradual approach to meditation training, one minute a day for a year. For a quick intro to One-Moment Meditation, see his animated short film, "How to Meditate in a Moment" at onemomentmeditation.com.