09 May Be a warrior. Fight Stress!
When experiencing stress, the things that you do automatically, the opposite of a mindful awareness, are called stress reactions. If you’re lucky, some of your reactions may be helpful and therefore dissipate the stress. More often than not though, reactions to stress are unhealthy and lead to further stress. A response is more mindful, includes some time for reflection, is aware rather than automatic, and tends to be more helpful.
Your reactions to stress are partly based on what you assimilated in childhood, partly genetic, and partly based on your own experiences with stress. If whoever brought you up reacted in a certain way to stress, you have a greater chance of behaving in a similar way.
Your own experience of ways of dealing with stress also comes into the equation. Perhaps you’ve always drunk several cups of coffee when you’re feeling stressed, and find that the caffeine helps you to get your work done. Although you may feel this is effective, caffeine is a stimulant and the more you drink, the more stressed you’ll probably become.
Reacting automatically implies a lack of choice. Through practicing mindfulness, you begin to have a greater choice of ways to respond, and can thereby achieve a more satisfactory outcome.
The key to dealing with a stressful situation, especially for those who take things personally, is to develop a deeply grounded core rudder so that no matter what size of wave one encounters they can recover quickly and proceed with more focus. One very effective tool to keep grounded is to develop what Dr. Ronald Alexander calls “mind strength” through a mindfulness meditation practice. Mind strength is the ability to very quickly and easily shift out of a reactive mode and become fully present in the moment, experiencing the full force of your emotions even as you recognize that they are temporary and will soon dissipate.
When you’re stressed, Dr. Alexander recommends you to stop and ask yourself these questions:
- What do I feel right now?
- Do these feelings benefit me in any way? If I feel anxious and fearful, do these emotions lead me to insights, or are they completely unwholesome responses that cause conflict, hold me back, and distract and dis-empower me?
- If what I’m experiencing is in response to another person’s behavior, what’s the evidence that the person’s actions have little or nothing to do with me and are, instead, the result of what’s going on inside his own mind?
- Is there anything I can do to help myself depersonalize the situation?
- Are there practices I can use to nourish myself at this difficult time?
Mindfulness meditation and other disciplines such as martial arts, tai chi, and yoga are excellent ways of quieting the rational mind and opening up to the intuitive mind and its link to the numinous creative force. Through this connection one is able to build their “mind strength,” learn to stop their reactivity, and focus on the big picture.