I learned something recently about stress. As I’ve mentioned it to others, they had mentioned hearing it somewhere before but couldn’t remember where.
I was reading a book “Kitchen Table Wisdom” by Dr. Rachel Remen. I forget the passage, but it was about accepting whatever feeling or emotion you are experiencing. The people I read about who she walked through this process appeared to have experienced quite a change. I decided to try it out. Since I feel stress alot, it was a good place to start. The premise for this exercise was simple enough: when you notice that you are stressed, stop what you are thinking and just feel the stress.
Now, I have to say this is not something I would normally do. Previously, I’d realize I was stressed then I’d think I don’t want to be stressed and then I’d end up even more stressed. If the root of my stress was due to something at work, then I’d urgently try to resolve it so I could stop the stress. This used to be my typical workday, by the way.
So, what I did was, when I got stressed…instead of going down the path of stressing about stressing…I stopped thinking. I focused on the physical feeling of stress. It seemed to be just about where my heart is. I just felt that nervous tremor. I just felt it. I focused on it. It seemed to last. I just kept feeling it…it started to fade. It faded until it was gone. After a minute or so, it was totally gone. Then I thought about what had me stressed, I was definitely more calm when I started thinking about it. Gradually, the fear around what I was worried about came back and I had to feel it again. I could make the stress go away, or more accurately, I could let it pass.
This was a big win for me. In fact it was huge. I started doing this in other situations…like with my kids when they were whining or otherwise doing things that would make my temperature rise. I began to notice something else that was going one. I was listening more. Listening more to my wife, my kids, my friends, and to myself.
As I was doing this exercise of feeling the feelings, I found I was also much more aware of what was stressing me out and why. It was largely due to fear. Fear about lots of things: how I am perceived by others (if I don’t deliver at work), death (how much time to I have left?), money (mortgage is going up and private school is 25k a year…what about groceries?), etc. I found that the fear was largely a conflict between how I perceived things being and the desire to expand my own horizons. I realized that everything I was stressed about was ultimately a conflict that I create by measuring my situation from a self-centered point of view. As I was sitting on the train commuting to work, I realized I don’t need to escape my mortgage and my work…I need to escape my thoughts.
At first, this realization was scary. How can I escape my thoughts? Are they that bad? When I considered how stressed I was, I decided they were. I used the feel the feelings exercise to deal with the stress I created and I became aware of the thoughts I’d have that generate the stress. Often, they really weren’t things that I needed to think about. Most of these thoughts were around comparing myself to others (males that might have more muscle or be more attractive or have more money or nicer clothes) worrying how I was perceived by others (it’s review time at work will my boss look upon me favorably? or will my peers find out I’m really just not good enough?) or about things that are not likely to happen. When I realized the value of thought, that was enough to undermine it and stop the whole cycle. Which, I have to say was and is incredibly cool.
I’m glad I read that book. I still want to make more money so living is filled with more creative time and not live the life of an employee, but I’m not going to kill myself mentally to make it happen.