This month I want to talk about an issue thats been close to my heart for a while, and that is managing stress in these amazing and sometimes challenging times.
We all know that chronic stress isnt good for us, that it can lead to anxiety, depression, weight gain, heart attacks, cancer, and all sorts of physical and psychological disorders. We tend to think that stress is a necessary part of survival in these times, with financial stresses, health stresses, business stresses, parenting stresses vying for our energy. We tend to feel that stress is a given part of modern society, a necessary survival mechanism, and we feel trapped by it, and by default, by the situations we find ourselves in that apparently cause us to stress. It is certainly normal to feel stress, but is it actually necessary?
I have been sitting with one of my teachers and he has helped me inquire much more deeply into this issue and what I am seeing in myself is deeply affecting me.
If we look more deeply, is stress really necessary to function in this society, or is it just so normalised we think it is? Does it actually help? It promises to help, it seems like it will help to get more done, more fitted into the day if we are chronically flooded with adrenalin and cortisol, but is it true? It is worth considering.
Stress is a pattern of feeling like we don’t have enough time to do what we think we need to do. It can also be a deeply ingrained pattern from childhood if we grew up in a stressful environment- it just feels normal. Here are some questions I was asked that I offer you for your own consideration.
- Does stress help you think more clearly, or are you more likely to make mistakes?
- Do you fit more into your day if you are stressed, than if you are more relaxed but still motivated?
- Does stress help you enjoy your life, or does it promise enjoyment later, when you have finished everything that needs doing and all stessors have gone? (which ultimately rarely ever happens)
- How do we treat other people when we are stressed? Sensitively, with love, or as objects?
- Is stress inevitable, or is it a certain orientation to time and to life that we are conditioned into?
Your life, I am sure, is as busy or busier than mine. At the core, we all generally just want to be happy, to be at peace in and enjoy our lives, but we cannot control everything that happens in our lives - have you noticed? :) Does that mean we are victims to circumstance and chronic, unhealthy stress is inevitable?
How can we live in a relatively relaxed, happy way with so many competing priorities, long to-do lists, things to attend to, work to do, money to earn, social events to attend, endless forms to fill out...all of it...while not becoming hostages to external circumstances and becoming stressed and disempowered? How can we deal with the challenging, emotional issues in our life, especially the painful ones- without adding extra layers of suffering on top, that ultimately don’t help at all?
There is no answer, no easy fix, no pill, but we can look with an inquiring mind at what stress promises, and what it actually delivers. It doesn’t deliver efficiency, peace or a beautiful life, that’s for sure, certainly not in the present, and very unlikely in the future either. Waiting for retirement, or the end of a project, or when the kids leave home, or any other event in the future, is just the hope we give ourselves that one day, this will get better. That hope, eventually leads to quiet despair, or even deep depression.
The automatic and unconscious mechanisms of stress in us can unravel if they are seen clearly. Maybe the patterns won’t change all at once, because the tendrils of stress’s promises run deep in our conditioning, but they can only function if we don’t see them and if we just believe them.
If we don’t give attention to consider how stress works and sucks our life energy, we can easily burn up our whole life thinking we are getting somewhere later- stress promises that later it will be ok, if we can just move fast and do more and ignore the beauty of this moment....but stress doesn’t deliver much but discomfort and disease.
The ancient art of meditation, of mindfulness, of taking time to sit quietly can help counterbalance the momentum of stress, and we can start to see how it works inside us. Daily meditation is very useful in gaining some perspective on the sense of busyness, overwhelm and stress in our modern lives. Yoga, Chi Kung, and time being still doing crafts or in nature, can also help greatly.
The patterns can run deep and can take some unravelling - I love using herbs to help my body and mind chill a bit, especially in the evening. Simple teas like chamomile, lavender, lemon balm and tulsi are good. Other herbal medicines I might take as tablets or tinctures include ashwagandha, siberian ginseng and licorice, to help strengthen and calm the adrenals.
Of course, I am sure you already know of the many ways you can unwind and de-stress- and what works for you....I want to encourage you to not get stressed in the first place by looking at the pattern of stress in your life.
Don’t underestimate the power of stress to undermine your happiness and your health, and don’t be fooled by its false promises. It IS possible to slow down, to reconnect with ourselves, with life in all its wonder and beauty and depth, to practice self care and nurturing, and still live in this modern world.