Manage Your Stress

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

The cashier at the grocery counter asks you to pay a dollar for a ten-cent item. Would you pay the dollar? Of course, you wouldn't. Yet that's exactly what you and I do on many occasions. We spend a dollar worth of anguish, pain, worry, and emotional energy over a dime's worth of problems. If we become more cost effective and stop overspending, we can be far more productive and use the saved energy for more important things. To economize on the expenditure of energy and to stop these leaks of energy, follow the golden rule number one: "Do not sweat over the small stuff. " Later in the article, I will cite the rule number two.

Events do not produce as much stress as we do. Our perception and our interpretation of the events cause far more stress and damage than does the actual outcome of the events. How big a problem an event presents and what we think it would do to us determines how we would physically and mentally react to a particular event. Over the same event, we may sigh and sweat, or literally bleed through the internal organs. 

For example, people who see a saber tooth tiger in every person who questions or criticizes them, get into a "fighting mode" as if everything they have worked for and lived for is at stake. Some others will get into a "fleeing mode" and run for their life. In either case, the result is an "overheated" and "overworked" body and exhausted mind. What a waste of energy! 

Physical stress which results from excessive physical activity is very different from the mental stress which results from hopelessness, frustration, fear or anger. Let's take for example the effect of stress on blood vessels. When we are experiencing only physical stress, our blood vessels open up, but when we are experiencing mental stress, the blood vessels actually constrict! Stress-related illnesses, such as headaches, heart problems, and high blood pressure are more likely to result from mental stress rather than from physical type of activity.

While stress management is highly praised, it really only scratches the surface. This is because it does not provide a long-term or a pervasive relief. Rather than managing the mental stress, let's try to eliminate it at its source. One of the major sources of mental stress is the need to have everything exactly as we want it. When we want absolute control over everything, we are really wanting the impossible.

When we feel we have lost control over the events and our actions, we panic or fly into a rage. It doesn't matter if we are really helpless or not, or if the situation is really hopeless or not, if we believe that that is the case, we will experience stress. We are frustrated when we feel we can't do what we want to do and we have to do what we don't want to do. 

What an irony! On one hand, we want absolute control, and on the other, we seldom try to control the things over which we do have control. We hardly try to control what we think, how we see things, and how we react to what happens in our lives. Instead, we want other people and life events to behave in such a manner that we can possess that absolute control. 

Stress elimination, as distinct from stress management, requires adopting an appropriate mental frame. That mental frame includes adopting a relaxed philosophy of life, a relaxed attitude of mind, and a positive outlook. Another important element required for stress elimination is wisdom, the most undermined and underutilized quality in today's world. 

These conscious or subconscious thoughts cause a lot of mental stress: "I can control  everything. This universe exists for my convenience. Others must act according to my preferences and values. I should be perfect at all times and so should others. I can succeed in everything the first time I try? I can always succeed. Everyone must say what I want to hear and conform to my requirements. Everyone must agree with me. I should be able to have pleasure without pain. Why can't I be rewarded without the hard labor?"  

Accepting of others and being non judgmental reduces stress. If someone makes a mistake, don't panic, don't fly into a rage, just help in whatever way you can. Overlook imperfections and accommodate the inconveniences. Obstacle and failures are opportunities for the future. Some things we can only learn when we make the right mistakes.

Let me now quote both the rules of stress management, or rather the rules of stress elimination in our life. Rule one: 1. Do not sweat over the small stuff. Rule two: 99.99 %
is small stuff.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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