According to legend, Buddha was born able to walk and whenever he took one of his first steps, a lotus flower would appear where his feet touched the ground. The plant is a symbol of purity as it emerges from murky waters perfectly clean, untouched by its grim surroundings. Want to be like the lotus flower blooming in the midst of all this unpleasantness? Read on.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Let’s play a game, shall we? Ageism, addiction, asthma, birth, bug bite, burning bridges, breast cancer, customer complaints, change, deadlines, delays, discrimination, divorce – can you spot a pattern? These are only a handful of stressors that start with a, b, c, and d. Needless to say, there are plenty more letters in the alphabet. And since misery loves company, we’re usually faced with a combination of issues.
No matter our overall levels of happiness, life is the definition of stress. But when a freshly brewed cup of coffee spilled all over your favorite white shirt is the least of your problems, it’s easy to get strained to the point of anxiety. We live in a demanding world where we need to constantly adjust to the change of pace and scenery and it’s safe to say that unless you can lead a lifestyle of a Tibetan monk, sooner or later you’ll face a fight-or-flight scenario that will shake you up one way or another.
However, where does stress end and where does anxiety begin? Stress is our response to perceived danger in a particular situation. For example, when you’re about to give a speech in front of a hundred people, your mind might start projecting scenarios of you forgetting what to say or your audience laughing at you, causing you to worry that things will not go according to plan. With sweaty palms and a cracking voice, you can still do the job. However, if you have a panic attack before delivering the speech, it could affect your performance so severely that you’ll be unable to do the task.
Anxiety arises from the stress of a situation, but it is also our response to chronic tension. The truth is, there’s only so much our hearts can take. If you keep experiencing grief, or illness and injury, or constant pressure at a job you loathe, the stress is bound to take its toll on you. And since prolonged mental strain might affect our health, causing symptoms such as headaches, chest pain, digestive difficulties, skin rashes, or loss of sleep, we need to manage it effectively.
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”
― C. S. Lewis
Dancing in the Rain
Sometimes, when it rains it pours, and the umbrellas we have at our disposal do not seem to do their job properly. How do we build a stronger shelter to withstand the storm? Since you’re reading this article now, you’ve already taken a step in the direction of self-help. But not to worry, there’s still more you can do to ease your discomfort. For example:
Whether you pick up a coloring book, a journal, a meditation app, take a mental health day, or step on a yoga mat – begin to approach stress and anxiety by pressing pause. Stop first to then move forward in a healthy way.
Have some fun for goodness sakes. Lighten up and live a little. To stay sane, we need time devoted solely to joy.
Planning is one of the best prevention practices for stress. Kiss perfectionism goodbye though because, in order to manage stress well, we also need to accept that we can never be fully prepared for whatever life throws at us.
With a healthy dose of intentional solitude, socializing relieves tension. Depending on whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, prescribe yourself a few coffee dates with friends accordingly.
Stress is this fickle thing that, when you think about it, doesn’t really exist, does it? It’s our subjective perception of a situation that makes it stressful in our heads. And this means we could actually control our nerves with the right mindset.
“Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass. It's about learning how to dance in the rain.”
― Vivian Greene
Panic Room: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapeutic treatment to help us recognize and reframe destructive mental patterns that negatively affect our behavior and emotions. The underlying assumption of this therapy is that thoughts and feelings play a crucial role in how we act. For instance, someone who spends a lot of time thinking about accidents and disasters may be too worried to leave the house (that’s why doomscrolling is dangerous).
CBT has been proven effective in healing anger, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and phobias, but also chronic pain or insomnia (which further cements the mind-body connection truth). Negative thoughts worsen our emotional turmoil and have a detrimental effect on our overall well-being. Identifying and replacing them with more objective, realistic judgments will help us deal with the stressful side of life more efficiently.
“Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”
― Charles Swindoll
So do we need to see a therapist to reap the benefits of CBT? If you want to be 100% certain you’re doing everything right, or if you feel you might be suffering from an anxiety disorder, then working with a specialist is advised. However, we can still make use of the CBT techniques at home. Here’s how.
First of all, you need to open yourself to the possibility of change for it to actually occur. Yes, it’s a heavy thought that so much in life lies beyond our control, yet there is still a lot we are in charge of: our thoughts, behaviors, attitude.
Then, identify your stressors and the thoughts attached to them that you’d like to change. Set a goal to acknowledge those thoughts every single time they appear in your head, and make them turn turtle. Imagine thinking differently. How would it feel if you were not worried about this particular thing? Distance yourself from it to assess it from all angles with a critical eye. Maybe it’s not as black as it is painted?
Finally, self-monitor your behavior and reactions. In time, you’ll learn to catch intrusive thoughts early enough to reframe the narrative before it even has a chance to evolve into negativity. Pro tip: write everything down. Putting pen to paper will visualize all the trouble spots for you so you know exactly where the tension needs to be diffused. Keep track of your habits to see if you can implement any improvements there, too. Bonus point: should you ever decide to visit a specialist, your notes will serve as invaluable documentation in the therapy room.
While not every pond grows a Buddhist lotus flower, every cloud has a silver lining. We learn how to do life even when we are fraught with anxiety. One last piece of advice: anytime you are flushed with the adrenaline rush, call your panic names. We’re serious. And make them the silliest you can think of. Here’s an example: Hoolaloo. Who says you have to address your anxiety by its official uptight name? It’s decided – from now on, it’s called Hoolaloo. Stress requires comic relief. So how’s your Hoolaloo today?