Stress – are you its master or its victim?
Stress is not a physical thing, although the effects of it can be quite physical. I have posted before about the negative consequences of runaway and uncontrolled stress in prior posts on lifestyle, no problem, mindfulness and meditation, The Secret to Happiness, and eight ways to relieve stress. The health effects are real and brought on by the power of our mind and the hormonal responses it can generate.
Which brings me to the question in the heading – stress only exists in your mind, because you personally produce it. The events which are creating the stress are just that – events which have taken place and are generally beyond your control to change. Whether you feel stress because of those events is in your personal power to control, for the most part.
Of course, there are events which generate an automatic uncontrolled stress reaction such as when you are in imminent physical danger. This is not the kind of stress we are discussing because this stress has kept us alive as a species for millenia, occurs, and is resolved generally quickly.
For other events, you consciously can decide how to react. Your first automatic reaction may be a stress reaction, but you have a mind and the ability to consider that reaction as it occurs and decide if it is appropriate. But how exactly do you change it from being stressful to not being stressful?
The Power of Reframing
Let’s take an example to illustrate the concepts we are discussing. The event is this: your boss calls you in his office and tells you your production needs to increase or else. Your first reaction may be to start telling yourself a story about what it will mean to lose your job, and imagining all the negative effects that will have – perhaps even to the point of exaggerating in your mind some extrapolated effects such as “I will never find another job”. You get my point – none of this is real yet, or pre-ordained, or uncontrollable – it is entirely a story you are choosing to accept and which is stressing you out.
Let’s consider what happens if you decide after the initial story hits (which is likely an uncontrollable reaction – just the way we are wired to protect ourselves) to look at this differently and tell a different story. Perhaps you will decide that this is an insight into your abilities you had not been aware of and that perhaps there are ways for you to leverage things to be more productive. If you can work at this and achieve this challenge perhaps you can then use these methods you discover in your personal life as well to be more effective there. Suddenly, you start to feel the excitement and anticipation that a challenge always brings rather than the despair and hopelessness generated by your first story.
This is a concept in psychology known as reframing – you decide what frame you want the picture of the events in your life to be viewed in. This really can be a powerful tool for change in your life, and I encourage you to consider using it and developing the habit of always considering whether you are using the right frame or whether a different one might be more appropriate.
Summary and more reading on the concept of reframing
Chris Kresser, integrative and functional medicine practitioner, author, and creator of chriskresser.com has published an article which I am linking to below on ways to implement reframing as well as how to combine it with the concept of mindfulness to manage the stress in your life. Ths article has some good ideas and tips and I recommend you spend a few minutes reading it.
I also encourage you to implement the concepts in My Philosophy on Change and start practicing reframing the events in your life – I promise you will get plenty of opportunities to do so!