Running into a stressful event, or having a stressful event run into us, is part of daily life. You know, those times when your stress reaction gets triggered, and you find your emotions shifting from a place of calmness and/or happiness to one of turmoil, along with the symptoms that you personally experience when you’re stressed out.
Stress is about control. Human beings are wired to be in control, even though we are often aren’t. We assume we are control and are surprised that the evidence seems to be otherwise, or assume that if we try long and hard enough, we’ll finally get control. And while we’re in the middle of that struggle, chances are, our systems are on red alert. An open invitation to stress.
Sure, there are a lot of ways to deal with those stress symptoms. But how about avoiding the thinking that leads to stress in the first place? If you cut stress off at the source – your perceptions control of the situation – you might be able to save yourself the headache, heartache, sweaty palms, anger, fear, frustration… that go along with how you experience stress.
Ready to try some stress avoidance?
Here’s a technique for looking at those situations that combines mindfulness with analyzing your level control (or lack thereof).
Let’s say you find yourself in the middle of one of those situations that lead to stress. Like a traffic jam on a very hot day when you have to be somewhere. You’re on the highway, traffic suddenly comes to a halt, you look ahead, and all you see is the parking lot ahead of you. What happens next? Maybe you say a few choice words, pound on the steering wheel, and start imagining how awful your life is going to be for the next hour or more, how your whole day is ruined, how this shouldn’t be happening. Here come the stress symptoms.
Start with some mindfulness. Imagine taking a step back and surveying the situation from a helicopter. What’s happening here? Well, it’s a traffic jam. The cars aren’t going to move until a fender bender a mile down the road has been handled. That guy having a temper tantrum (that would be you) isn’t doing much to impact the solution.
Now that you have a bird’s eye view of the problem, here are four questions you can ask yourself:
Adapt. Can I adapt to this situation? Call up the friend I was planning to visit and change that late lunch into an early dinner, or call my job and let them know I will be starting late and offer to work late that day?
Accept. Can I accept this situation? Open the windows, play some music, catch up on phone calls, read the newspaper?
Avoid. Can I avoid this situation? Maybe pull onto the shoulder of the road and drive a few hundred yards to the exit ramp?
Alter. Can I alter the situation? Maybe get out of my car and direct traffic to get it moving faster?
Most likely, you can do at least one of these, if not combine a couple of them. But most likely, you can’t control this situation. The traffic jam is going to be traffic jam until it isn’t one anymore.
Now, look at situations in your own life that cause you stress. Does your stress result from wanting to be in control when you aren’t and, most likely, can’t be? The next time you find yourself about to become stressed out, take a mindfulness moment, and then ask yourself where you can adapt-accept-alter-avoid.
Chances are, there is something you can do that doesn’t involve giving in to stress!