When I was in nursing school I learned that several serious, life-altering diseases had one thing in common; a contributing factor of stress. Heart disease, hypertension, obesity, insomnia, back and neck pain, stomach ulcers, other gastrointestinal issues, and depression all have a common denominator….. stress. Stress is killing us.
But guess what? It’s not the stress, or stressor, that kills us, it’s how we manage our stress. And what may be very stressful to me might not be for you, and vice versa. For example, during the current Covid-19 global pandemic, many people are struggling with stay-at-home orders, quarantine, self-isolation, and physical-distancing, while others may be struggling with being laid off from work, laying off employees, or canceling important events. Types of stress, or stressors, are as unique as we are, and unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that certain things are recommended as stress management – meditation, gardening, visualization, journaling, deep breathing, exercise and good nutrition just to name a few.
But the issue with any and all of these techniques to help you manage your stress is that they focus on your behavior rather than on the thoughts leading to your behavior. Before behaviour, and before emotions and stress, are our thoughts. Absolutely everything we do, say, think, or feel is based on our thoughts, our context. Everything. And we build this context – our beliefs, opinions, attitudes, and our truth, throughout our lifetime, starting from when we are very young from our parents and caregivers.
The beautiful, powerful thing here is that we can change our context. Nobody can do that for us, but we have the absolute choice to examine our beliefs, opinions, and attitudes about our “stress”, make a context shift, and stop stressing. I may, for example, have an opinion that being ‘busy and productive’ is important, which causes me to feel stressed, overwhelmed, and under self-scrutiny and judgment leading to more stress. Oh, I could introduce meditation and other techniques to manage this stress, but until I reflect on my context and decide to shift this opinion, I am merely adding more ‘things to do’ to my productive to-do list. Make sense?
Looping all the way back to the thoughts, the context, that causes the response to stressors, enables us to truly and effectively manage stress. We can never completely eliminate stress from our lives, and the behaviour of stressing gets us nowhere, or even worse….. all the way to the wrong result. Stress management techniques have their place, don’t get me wrong, but the golden ticket to TRULY managing our stress is reflecting on our context, our beliefs, attitudes, opinions, and our truth…. and then choosing to shift that context.