How we react to stress is now considered the best indicator for living a healthy lifestyle.
How often have we heard people say to us when we are anxious or worried about a stressful crisis in life: ‘You really must try not to stress about it!’ For sure this is easier said than done.
There are three main reasons for experiencing stress: uncertainty or insufficient information, emotional isolation and unresolved conflict. It is impossible to relax and think positively until these issues are dealt with and understood.
I have found that building emotional competence through the 7 A’s: awareness, acceptance, anger, assertion, affirmation, attachment and autonomy, has strengthened my ability to cope with stress. Of course, I feel stressed at times, but my ability to relax and think more realistically, not pessimistically, has been strengthened.
I have likened the effects of emotional competence to wearing a safety belt as you would when you travel by car or air. In the same way as a safety belt protects you from injury in an accident, so emotional competence, when acquired supports you from the hurt of stressful crises.
There are a few differences though –
- It is an ongoing process.
- It needs to be practiced to become a part of you (like any habit if you don’t use it you lose it!)
- It is a wonderful motivator for times that are tough.
Learn to listen to what your body is telling you. The body has a delicate feedback system. When it malfunctions, there are usually signs that you should be aware of. Questions such as where, how and what is the pain in your body and what are the emotional feelings that you are experiencing should be asked?
It is your body and your feelings and your responsibility to identify the pain and its degree and respond appropriately. I am not suggesting you diagnose the problem, just that you realize the importance of noting what the pain is, when it happens, how it happens and what pattern it takes.
It is also important to recognize what your emotional ‘hot’ button triggers are. Think about what causes you to feel angry, how you show your anger and what the consequences are of your reactions. What does it do to your health, your relationships, your plans? Repressed or misunderstood emotions can bring on stress.
Once you recognize the patterns that seem to recur, you must take action. See an expert such as a doctor or therapist if you need help. Do not hang on to the anger or the fear.
A useful acronym in mindful awareness is RAIN – Recognize the feeling or thought, Accept it good or bad, Investigate it (why, when, where etc.), Non-identification (try not to hang on to the pain). Label it and take the necessary action.
We all have images of how we would like to live our lives. But when we are confronted with a condition that may change our life plans, difficulties of how to cope may arise. We are naturally uncertain of the future and may experience feelings of emotions that we cannot control. Depression, anxiety or anger may arise. We need compassionate curiosity and the willingness to recognize and accept how things are. Compassionate curiosity does not mean liking everything we find out about ourselves, only that we look at ourselves with the same no n-judgmental acceptance we would anyone else who suffered and needed help.
It is important to acknowledge these feelings, they are not unrealistic. Anticipations about the future are questioned such as how you may cope, who will look after you and your family.
How we react to crises such as these can be opportunities for growth. When we do not invest too much energy in self blame or blaming anyone else for our condition, we are able to energize ourselves to learn how to overcome our difficulties. Internal growth hardly occurs in an environment where our lives are easy.
Try and focus on the present circumstances without thinking too much about the future. Get in touch with all the experiences you can of your present moment. For example, if for some reason you are unable to walk because your knee is sore, try and focus on all the things you have wanted to do instead of rushing around in your car.
Your fears should be confronted if they occupy your thoughts. Ask questions of your doctor, therapist, do research, but also learn techniques to relax you. Accept that you may not react just like Susie next door or like the brave person you read about. That is okay. Permit yourself to admit your fears but try and learn to verbalize your fears to someone you trust. By doing this you will take comfort in the knowledge that the fears may have no realistic basis or you may be given sound advice on how to deal with it.
The feeling of anger is a natural response to something that is wrong in our lives. Sometimes it is a reaction to the fear of something that may not be realistic. But we should nonetheless not ignore the signs. We should not carry the emotional feeling of anger with us for too long without finding a reasonable solution for the feeling. The downside of anger is that it is unhealthy if repressed and the reasons for the anger not fully understood and dealt with adequately. For example, it does your health no good if you seethe with anger by something someone has said to you, but you deny that it is upsetting you. In other words you allow the anger to fester inside without using the opportunity to interpret the experience in an emotionally intelligent manner.
We are empowered when we allow ourselves to look at what has angered us, understand it and learn to deal with it, without hurting ourselves or anybody else. It is useful to accept the feeling, label it and let it go. Neuroscience is reinforcing the benefits of cognitive behavior techniques. We can learn to tame the amygdala, the area in the brain responsible for our reflexive reaction to fear. Habitual patterns can be changed. A tried and tested tool is to count to ten before we explode with anger. Or we can choose to walk away. We always have a choice in how we can respond, There is a great deal of research, tools and techniques on how we can change our overreactions to our hot buttons if we take the time and trouble to learn how.
Compassion and kindness can go a long way to dissipate anger. It is useful to keep reminding ourselves that generally most people and events in life are not programmed intentionally to upset us. This is an important realization to be aware of when our anger overtakes us. We do not all think or feel the same way but this does not make us right and others wrong. We are all made of the same life parts, but our life experiences result in different expressions of events. This should be respected and not fought.