Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Stress Connection

Earlier today I was preparing a presentation called The Art of Joyful Living: How to Stay Tuned Into Joy in a Stress-filled World. As I organized my thoughts and I focused on the stress element that seems to steal our joy, I realized more fully than I had previously known, how in control we each are of even having stress.

For many years, I have wondered why the psychology experts offered classes on managing stress. I personally am not interested in managing my stress. I'd prefer to get to the bottom of it and eliminate it if possible. What does managing stress even mean? The image that comes to my mind is lassoing my stress so I can control it, only letting it out at certain times. Another image is putting a leash on it and keeping it at my side, like I do with my dog so he doesn't chase squirrels. Things like taking bubble baths or reading romance novels on the beach have been offered as ways to manage stress.

It's not that I don't enjoy bubble baths, juicy novels and the sound of waves rolling up to the beach. I know these elements can bring peace in the moment, but what about those stresses you managed temporarily when you go back to your real world, without ocean waves and bubble baths? Won't those stresses that I managed be back again, running amok through my life, creating mayhem and heart disease?

What I know about most of the stresses that show up in my life experience is that they are based on fears. I also know fears can be met and even eventually overcome, so why not pay more attention to what my fears are and then in turn eliminate the stresses that are born from them?

A good example is the stress I have when I am required to drive through a city in which I am unfamiliar. My fear is getting lost. Silly, I know. Even if I got lost, I could get un-lost, but it's my fear and it causes stress even thinking about it. I also am afraid of aggressive drivers. What if they scowl or yell at me for going too slow in the passing lane? Yes, I know....that says more about their stress than mine, if they don't have the patience to wait two seconds longer to make their move, but again I sweat even picturing it. I must say this stress is unrealistic since I even have a GPS telling me where to go, but my active mind messages make it real.

It seems the antidote for this particular recurrent stress of mine would be to spend more time driving in cities and getting experience so I don't feel so lost and incompetent. I'm quite certain this recurrent stress could actually evaporate if I no longer gave it so much attention and simply overcame the fear with experience. I could also give myself more positive messages about my sense of direction or my resourcefulness, or I can create a perspective of an adventure where whatever happens is all great food for my spirit.

I am clearly making a connection for myself that my stress is created by me. I am not a victim to it, but rather an accomplice. When I decide that it no longer is one I want to manage, I will let it go. The result will be more room for joy and that is always good for me.