Handling Stress Part 3: Untying The Knots
There are always twists, turns, bumps and potholes on the road of life along with the occasional detour. One can spend a great deal of time trying to avoid them but they are inevitable. We can try to do so but despite our best to avoid them but the result would be that we will end up substituting one set of them for another. Yes, it can be frustrating and stressful in a variety of ways, at the same time it is what makes life interesting. If life were totally predictable and could be controlled the adventure would be lost. Besides, our mind is rooted in the past and by trying to control life what we would end up doing would be to turn it into a series of events spawned by what has been. In trying to control events in our life we would find that rather than being the masters of our destiny we would become the victim of and trapped by what was.
In the ebb and flow that is our lives we encounter situations that take us out of our comfort zone, which often results in our feeling stressed. We also know that some, though certainly not all of the stresses we encounter are of our own making. I am referring to such things as the choices we make not working out as we had planned or when we have made mistakes or allowed issues to build up without working on them. As for the others, it can be hard to accept that all the stresses and strains we experience are of our own making. This leads to the tendency of relating our stress to the event or external causes. We do this when we say things such as “This is a stressful situation” or “This or that is stressing me out”.
Even though at times we might like to think that someone else actions or uncontrollable circumstances are the source of our stress they are not. First of all, our lives are not something we can consciously control despite our desire to do so, and the events that occur are not random despite appearances to the contrary and second, the source of our stress is within us. We can get into a lively debate about the nature of causality in our lives, but the point is actually moot.
If the Serenity Prayer I included in part two of this series (1) is not sufficient to drive this point home then consider the old saying of “no point in crying over spilt milk.” Just as happiness is something we create and not something that happens to us, so too do we create our own stress or misery. We can rail against external events that we believe are the sources of our stress and strain but not only does that not help us it does nothing to change it. We can tell ourselves that we did not ask for what may be happening in our lives, do not deserve it or it is unfair, but the fact remains that it is us who are the author’s of our stresses.
We do know, at some level, that the source of our stress is us even though we may try to assign blame elsewhere. We know this because we have all seen how different people handle it similar situations and not everyone reacts the same way. When a crisis hits some people are paralyzed by indecision, for a variety of reasons, while others in the same situation accept what is going on, do not get paralyzed and simply do what they can to deal with it. Those who fall into the latter category have developed the mental capacity to deal with whatever is going on differently than others have.
This is because our minds are different, not in substance, but in the thought structures that they contain. We all share many similar thought structures; however, our minds are not like our arms and legs in that they do not have a standard form. Further, we also bring in different capabilities and tendencies into each lifetime and our minds, which are built during each life, are unique to each individual. Part of that uniqueness includes how we react to our experiences.
Within each lifetime we can certainly see how our upbringing and early experiences shape our minds. For instance, if we grew up with parents who always bailed us out of our issues or tried to solve our problems for us we are less likely to develop the capacity to deal with issues on our own. The same would also apply if our parents tended to allow us to get our way rather than deal with matters or if we have never had many life issues to deal with. In both cases it is far less likely we would develop the skills needed to deal with situations where we do not get our way or when something unforeseen occurs. This leads each of us to react to experiences in our own fashion and so the stresses we manifest are unique to us. Be this as it may, the stresses we feel are due to how we react to the situations that we experience and not the situations themselves. So, while we cannot control the experiences we have, we can learn to deal with our reactions to them including the stress we manifest.
Dealing with stress and strain
In the previous parts in this series we started with a look at the way we react to experiences as the stresses and strains we encounter are a result of the dynamics of this process. We then focused on the topic of stress and strain by looking at how our reactions manifest it, the signs we are experiencing it and ways to find its source(s). The key is to recognize we are stressed and when we know that the question becomes one of “What are we going to do about it?”
At the highest level the numbers of options we have are limited. Simply put we can try to ignore it, cope with it or work on resolving it. While the options are limited there are many paths one can take to work on resolution, though completely resolving the sources of our stress is not necessarily easy to do. This is primarily due to two factors. The first is the due to the nature of our minds in that our thoughts are highly connected and can be deeply buried in it. Second, we often become accustomed to our issues as they have become part of our personality and we can be reluctant to change.
There are pluses and minuses with the three options though the later choice is almost always the one that is in our best overall interest. Our capabilities at the time we are dealing with and trying to handle the stress we experience will dictate which path we take as will the immediacy and nature of the issue that is manifesting the stress. In turn, our capabilities at any moment depend on such personal qualities as our level of conscious awareness, our intent and desire (2), and how much personal power we have.
One may find that their path to resolution follows all three of these options. By that I mean that one might start by trying to minimize or ignore the stress until the consequences of it are such that this path is not longer workable or tolerable. We then may try to cope with it. That in turn may lead us to a similar place as ignoring the stress at which point we finally make a decision to try to resolve it. Of course no matter which option we take we are making a choice.
With the first option our choice is to carry on as we have been. Unlike the other two options, it is typically accompanied by the notion we can deal with it or the hope that somehow the situation will change or resolve itself in some manner. This option comes with few if any pluses as it does not solve the problem and the stress often grows stronger. With the second option there is some recognition that the stress will not resolve itself and so we choose to try to reduce or eliminate the impact of the stress on us through various means.
In the essay “Dealing With Strong Emotions” (3) we looked at working on reducing the energy of our emotions, these being what we experience as stress, but there are other ways of reducing the knot of the thoughts and the emotions they manifest. One way is to get away from the situation or find something else to do for a period of time, assuming one knows what is triggering our reaction. Another is to laughter as it is a great stress buster in its own right, and even though it is only a temporary fix it can lead us to try the third option.
The problem or issue with choosing to ignore or simply try to cope with the stress is the source of the stress remains and can only be cleared by dealing with the thoughts that are manifesting it. I understand that we can allow our thoughts and feelings to keep us from choosing to deal with the source of our stress. Nonetheless we must be mindful that not resolving the source of our stress and allowing it to continue can result in other issues that can affect our mental, emotional and physical bodies in a negative way. It can even significantly change our personality. The bigger the issue the more significant these consequences can become.
Due to the previously mentioned challenges, the interconnectivity of thoughts and resistance, choosing to try to find and then reduce or eliminate the source of our stress can take time. As a result we should also use various coping strategies at the same time as we work on the issue. The vast majority of the stress we experience, assuming that the outcome of it is not a physical problem, comes from the emotional reactions our thoughts manifest. These being reactions such as anxiety, frustration, fear and anger and so on. Of course we may also notice that we have difficulty thinking clearly or focusing or our mind may be racing along trying to figure out what to do. This can be the result of our not knowing what to do to resolve the issue combined with an inability to get a handle on or control of our emotional reactions. This is because we have a tendency to be more aware of our feelings than our thoughts. This is also why our emotional reactions play such a significant role in the programming of our minds.
Dealing with the emotional reactions to our stress is something I examined in considerable detail in part two of the essay series on dealing with strong emotions. That series is directly relevant here as this is precisely what we are dealing with when it comes to the stress we experience. We will tie what is covered there in with what we need to do to deal with stress in general.
The below quotes are from the first part of the series on dealing with strong emotions, with the first one being the high level steps involved in the process (the 3rd and 5th bullets are important as they are invaluable to us when we start working on locating and resolving the source of our stress):
- Noticing and acknowledging we are reacting emotionally
- Keeping the energy from building up
- Monitoring our thoughts to get a feel for our issue
- Reduce the flow of our emotional reaction
- Remembering the feelings that are triggered
Each of these steps is covered in a fair amount of detail in the essay with the first two being the most the most important in terms of dealing with our reactions and the stress that can result from them. The reason is, as mentioned above, our emotional reactions not only make it hard for us to think clearly and focus on the situation at hand it makes finding and dealing with the stress more difficult.
Step one is to recognize the stress and acknowledge it. We cannot keep the energy from building up, let alone work on resolving it if we don’t notice it. Noticing it also helps us because paying attention reduces our focus on the emotional aspect of our reaction.
“The very first and best thing to do is to ground. We do by breathing techniques and visualization. By breathing, I mean with each inhale imagine that you are breathing in calming energy up from the earth and when you exhale you are exhaling all the negativity down into the earth. As you breathe, visualize the flow of energy up and down as this strengthens your connection with the earth. Feel the anger or whatever emotion you have as flowing down with each exhale. When doing this you may very well need to exert will, not will power.
You may need to get forceful with yourself in order to keep the process going. This has the added benefit of distracting us from what we are reacting to and can in part reduce how much of the emotional energy we are creating. You can also visualize yourself in a place that you find calming and relaxing or even imagine a calming light shining down on you, provided you are able to do so in the heat of the moment and it is effective at grounding you to prevent energy build up (only experience can tell you this).”
Note: Grounding is covered in a separate essay (4)
Having recognized that we are reacting emotionally to whatever situation is triggering it we want to reduce the energies created by our emotional reactions to stress. This is often a challenge because many people are used to going by their feelings and have not trained ourselves to act in a reasoned manner, to be able to shift our attention away from our lower emotional body (lower astral body) when emotions are running high. This is understandable, at the same time we should remember or remind ourselves that dealing with and hopefully resolving the stress is far more difficult if we do not reduce these energies. The reason is if we remain focused at the emotional level we will not be able to monitoring our thoughts, something we need to do in order to make it easier to figure out why we are reacting as we do. In addition, we often make poor decisions when we are reacting based on our emotions.
Stress leads to a variety of mental and emotional reactions. The nature of the reaction depends on the person, the situation and the degree of threat our minds perceive and so on. Further, it is also important to recognize that the degree and awareness of one’s emotional reactions to stress can vary dramatically. A thought always manifests an emotion vibration; however, one’s mind can be programmed such that they withdraw attention from or block awareness of their emotional body. Some people’s minds even become segmented so that part of it deals with the stress it can become buried below the conscious level so they are not consciously unaware of it. It is likely you have observed this in others by noticing someone is acting uncharacteristically and when asked they say something to the effect of “No, I am fine, there is nothing wrong.” Of course when this happens it may also be that they are just unwilling to share the truth with you.
The types of reactions I mentioned above are coping mechanisms developed by the mind over time. The ones where the mind does various things to block awareness of the stress are often the result of reactions to traumatic experiences or prolonged unresolved stresses (often during one’s youth). Such situations make resolving the reasons one becomes stressed more difficult, though certainly not impossible, as the source of the stress tends to be from either one a few very strong thoughts or there are a number of thoughts closely entwined or both.
The whole point of reducing the strength of our emotional reactions to stress is to keep ourselves from acting rashly though it is also helpful when we begin to work on resolving the source of it. Grounding, breathing, taking a walk, doing something one loves to do, getting away from the situation or any one of a number of stress relief techniques can help us do this. The ideas I covered in the essay “Dealing With Strong Emotions” are directly applicable here as strong negative emotions put stress on us. What I did not cover there is the case where the trigger(s) for the emotions is ongoing.
Ongoing lower emotional reactions can occur where they are triggered by a situation we are unable to get ourselves out of or where we are unable to resolve the issue within us that manifests them. When either of these occurs we need to continue to work on clearing the emotions as they arise combined with acceptance of the situation and condition(s) we are dealing with.
Acceptance of them does not mean we are okay with them or that they are acceptable, or that we are giving up on dealing with them. It is an acknowledgment of and surrendering to the fact that they are part of our now, nothing more nothing less. I realize that this may seem counter productive, but this is not so because otherwise whatever negative emotions they trigger will become stronger and more will likely be added such as resentment, increased frustration and anger, that is if these were not already part of our stress reactions. We cannot control everything and trying to do so can lead to increased anxiety, something we do not need when we are trying to resolve our issue(s).
Regardless of the way one deals with reaction as they surface we still must get to the underlying issues within us that give rise to the stress. I have spoken with many about this and they found it challenging to accept the idea that they were the causing the reactions they experienced. Simple logic tells us this, if you think about it. We know that all people react differently to the same situation. What bothers one person does not bother another therefore it cannot be the experience or someone that is causing our stress.
If we look collectively at all the wants, needs and desires across all of humanity the only ones that are universal are the basics of food, water and shelter from the elements, with the latter one depending on where one lives. Without these basic needs being met we will die. Any other unfulfilled needs will not kill us and if you look you can find someone who does just fine without something another feels is a necessity. The different between two such people are the thoughts in their minds. It does not matter if that need be for love, material things, a good job, money or affection and so on. This shows us that whatever of such needs we may have we have taken them on ourselves.
“We create these needs because our rational mind has a strong tendency to attach value to things, people, places, memories and belief based on our reaction to them. This valuation leads the rational mind to try to repeat experiences it deems beneficial or good, and less of the alternatives. This process leads to attachment that, in turn, leads directly to need.
The needs we created are rarely the result of an individual experience. For the most part, they are the product of our integration of numerous experiences. We have touched on the idea that when our rational mind deems something important it wants more of it. We need water and food to survive; physiological differences aside, we do not need only particular foods, or a bigger house. Needs such as these do not start out as need, they morph into needs over time.” (5)
We may become greatly attached to what we have come to need and can get very bothered if we do not have them, but they are not a requirement to live except in our own minds. Further, what such wants and needs are based on thoughts and thoughts can be changed no matter how strong they are or how dependent we have become on them or how reluctant we are to let them go.
There is one other element of stress that can also be challenging to accept and that is the idea the experiences we have are ones we have chosen to learn particular lessons. It can be very hard to accept the idea that losing our job or relationship that matters deeply to us or even an assault on our person was our own choice as we are not aware of it making any such choices. However, not doing so also means that we are not personally responsible for what happens to us and so we can never be free of it.
Accepting that our stress is the result of our own thoughts and that we choose our experiences and are responsible for what occurs in our lives (6) can be difficult beliefs to accept. At the same time one needs to have them in order to be completely free of the stress not just now but for our entire lives. If we do not accept them then all we can do about our stress is either continue to cope with it or try to change our circumstances and hope that it goes away. We may be able to avoid it for a time, it could go away for a while then return or it could very well vanish altogether if it is not a core lesson in our lives. However, this is not likely what is going on if we are unable to deal with the stress and it continues or worsens.
Earlier I touched on the three approaches one can have to dealing with stress, these being ignore it, cope with it or work to resolve it. Resolving the stress means modifying the thoughts that give rise to our stress. The challenge of doing so is directly related to three factors. These are how buried the thought form is in our minds, how connected it is to other thoughts and the other is the degree of our attachment to it. None of these are too difficult to overcome with a small issue, especially if we are aware of it or it changing it has little impact on our lives. Even buried thoughts may not be hard to deal with, assuming we can locate them and they are not highly connected to other thoughts. The real challenge in resolving the source of our stress is when the thoughts are highly connected or we have strong attachments to them. The latter can happen when they are related to aspects that we feel are part of who we are or how we see ourselves or where the mind determines that they are necessary for the future it has imagined.
Our minds do a great many things for us automatically. One of them is it develops thought structures, or Action-Reaction sets (A-R sets) (7) which it uses them to make things easier for us. Another is it projects a future based on a combination of things such as our past, what we have shown it we want, need or desire and our recent circumstances. An example of an A-R set is how we react to things in general such as how we react to people who act a certain way. The below passage regarding A-R sets is from the essay “The Webs We Weave”:
“You can view the connections as relationships based on commonalities, which I have referred to before. Collectively, all these thoughts and interconnections, along with how they integrate with our brain, are our rational mind. For example, we may have learned to react negatively to a certain experience; the result being we try to avoid having that experience. When we cannot avoid it, we manifest lower thoughts and emotions about it. We may not even be aware of what we are reacting to; we only notice our reaction by our emotions, thoughts or perhaps sensations in our body. In any event, our reaction was “caused” by a particular piece of webbing. The strength of our reaction can be a result of how strong the thought forms are and how many different webs are connected. You can consider a particular web as an action-reaction set (A-R set) which is merely a trigger or a rule we have established to deal with certain “actions” or experiences. You can also view it as a capability or potential.”
Another example of an A-R set would be the routines we take on in life which I examined in the essay “The Folly of Familiarity” (8). They too can be very challenging to deal with as the below passage suggests:
“Some of the ruts we have created for ourselves are enormous and the burden of the past so overbearing that changing them can dramatically alter one’s life. Even when we have an inkling about being in such a rut the magnitude of the impact of changing it can deter one from not only trying to do so, but also from even wanting to in the first place. So, what is one to do? Well, this is where training the mind comes into play.”
Any thoughts and the structures that are part of are not fixed and rigid “things” in the same sense as physical objects are. If I change a physical object its original shape is lost, this is not what happens when we modify thoughts. Figuratively speaking thoughts are vibrations and when we change them we do not change the original vibration, what we are doing is imparting a new vibration to it. The original remains intact; however, the thought acts based on the new vibration or spin imparted to it.
In part two of the series on dealing with strong emotions (1) I described a method for working on the thoughts that lead to an emotional reaction. Any method we choose to use to modify our thoughts hinges on our ability to finding the thoughts to be changed. We can do this by talking about our feelings, which can active the thoughts that gave rise to them either to ourselves or with someone such as a psychologist or even a friend, by automatic writing (9) or by meditation and so forth. It does not matter what method one chooses to use. What matters is that we are able to locate the thoughts involved which is what the aforementioned methods can help us to do. I use the plural here because more than one thought will be involved.
Regardless of the process the same or similar steps are involved in one form or another. At a high level they are as follows:
- Locate the thoughts: we need to know what the thoughts are leading to our reaction
- Consider or examine the thought: figure out what the thought is as precisely as possible
- Understand the thought: try to pick up on where the thought came from and determine what having the thought “means” to you
- Determine a new thought: try to determine what the proper thought should have been if you had known better at the time
- Accept the new thought: we must unconditionally accept the new thought as the “right one” for us
- Re-integrate the experience with the new thought: “relive” the event but with the new thought instead of the original one
- Focus on the new thought: empowering the new thought is critical, if we do not have the courage of our convictions the old thought will remain
- Reinforce the new thought: we want to empower the new thought; the amount of reinforcement depends on how vibrant or “strong” the original thought form was.
How long the steps in this process take depends on us. It is not sufficient to simply create a new one as the old thought form will remain intact. If you have ever worked on changing a habit you likely realize that you cannot do so if they still allow the old habit to remain. This is primarily due to the momentum of our history as well as how the mind creates an imagined future based on our thoughts and circumstances. In the case of the projected future, the more the change we are trying to make diverges from our minds projection of the future the more it resists. This is the same as stretching an elastic band, the more you stretch it the greater the pull.
Of course one can try to use their will power to not follow the old habit. The problem with this is that this puts us in the position of having to resist something. This takes energy and must be done continually. For instance, if I get angry over something I know I ought not be angry about and simply try to be nice instead my anger will still surface and I will have to try to either repress it or resist expressing it. To not be angry about it I must recognize what about that “something” bothers me, figure out why it bothers me, how I should have reacted to it AND reject my old reaction as it does not help me. If I cling to my old reaction at all, such as justifying it in some way or in certain circumstances, then it remains.
One may believe their frustration, anger, fear or whatever lower emotion they are experiencing is justified in some way. This justification can take countless forms. We have all done it by clinging to justifications like someone lost at sea clings to floating piece of debris but it does not serve us. Doing so for a time is not the issue, especially when the situation is traumatic for the mind can take time to adjust to such events. However, to do so for any length of time does not serve us, it does the opposite. It empowers our justifications, allows them to connect to other challenges we have and makes them harder to resolve. Over time we will move on to other issues and leave the smouldering remains within our minds and auric field where they can influence our thoughts and will still be there should circumstances awaken them from their slumber.
We forget that life itself is sufficient and that all our personal desires, wants and needs are creations of our minds; but we are not our minds. We do not need anything in particular to enjoy life or to be happy we have simply allowed ourselves to take on such needs. Yes, they can become so much a part of us that to discard them seems like we are cutting off an arm or a leg and we become not just reluctant to do so, we can come to resist doing so with all the might we can muster. Again, our reluctance and resistance are both creations of our minds.
Our minds adopt such needs because we let them in part because we do not understand how our minds develop and function. We tend to become most aware of them when we encounter situations where they are threatened, but we are really only aware of the tip of the iceberg. The bulk of our needs lie behind our conscious awareness, which is why when we try to excise them we find ourselves resisting even the notion of doing so. Thoughts become entangled not like plants in a garden, more like a jumble of conjoined Siamese twins and to pull them apart seems to put us in an impossible tug of war with ourselves.
We resolve such challenges one step at a time. You do not untangle a knot ball of strings by yanking on the loose ones; you have to tease it apart. If you have ever had an epiphany you may have thought that you suddenly, in the moment you have it, realized or came to understand something personally profound. It is not likely that is the case at all though it may appear to be so. Epiphany’s are the result of our minds having gradually unravelled the tangle of thoughts that prevented us from seeing or grasping whatever it is we had the epiphany about. We are not aware of it because it happens behind the scenes.
We take on all forms of need during our lifetime, not because we actually need them, rather because we tend to be lazy thinkers, easily influenced by others and the collective momentum of the routines we can get into foster their development. This occurs mostly because we are not mindful of our reactions to events in our lives. Superficial observation and erroneous reasoning are the two primary sources of our baggage and needs are baggage. Our non-conscious mind takes its cues from our conscious thoughts and we do not pay near enough attention to our moment by moment reactions to experiences, we just carry on unaware of the baggage our reactions manifest
”At this point you may be wondering how our reaction to experiences alone can create needs. The reality is they do not, not alone anyway. The needs we create are the result of an untrained rational mind. The rational mind is untrained in that it uses poor reasoning and faulty, superficial and self-conscious observation when integrating experiences.
For instance, say we feel very uncomfortable in a certain situation. Our rational mind will try to determine the reason for this and may attribute the discomfort to the wrong source. This will affect future assessments and we may mistakenly try to avoid what we believed to be the source of our discomfort in the future. When we encounter the source, we find ourselves wanting to get out of the situation. If we cannot get out, we put up the defenses. We react this way because our rational mind has connected the source with our root needs for control and security. Unfulfilled needs lead us to feel that our control is threatened, or we are not safe. When this happens, we tend to react strongly and not usually in an appropriate or beneficial manner.” (5)
So long as we cling to our needs and wants we will always be vulnerable to stress. It is fine to prefer something because if we prefer one thing over another and do not get it we do not get bent out of shape over it. Stress occurs when we need something and do not get it. For example, if I have a need to stay at home rather than go out but am coaxed to go out I will not be comfortable, which is stress, when I do I will continue to want to be at home. If I simply prefer to be at home instead I will not be stressed when I go out and can enjoy myself.
You may be saying that the above example is not comparable, unless one has agoraphobia (fear of going out), to the threat of being fired, losing one’s home or the end of a relationship and so on. True, the example is less severe by far; however, what one needs to recognize is that we are dealing with differences of degree not kind. Just because we have made one need far more important or has a greater impact on us does not change the dynamics of need.
Unfortunately we tie our self worth and esteem even our survival to having certain things or circumstances in our lives or to appearing a certain way to others that we forget that we will survive without them. What we want to do is to shift our thinking, not away from things or circumstances we would like to have, we want to shift away from the need for them.
Stressing over one’s job or relationship is not going to solve our problem, it will only add to our burden. Until we recognize this we are stuck with either trying to ignore or cope with our stress, which is not in our best interests. There is nothing wrong with having goals in life even though this can lead to stress if our minds determine that we need to push harder to attain them. Such stress can be used to spur us on, to try harder or be more focused and so on. However, the fear of failure can become counterproductive and work against us. It is much like the idea that we should stand for something rather than against the alternative.
”Courage requires a reason to be courageous and it can start with an idea that we believe in. By standing for something rather than against something, we build our courage on strength not resistance. This is a key factor to remember.” (10)
Looking within for our needs and letting them go is the only way to end our stress. The old phrase “don’t worry be happy” comes to mind here for if we don’t mind, it does not matter. Another thing we can do is to ask ourselves what is the worst that can happen and consider how we will deal with it. Often we find that our fears are not based on imagined threats and not genuine. This can help to reduce our anxiety.
The best way to figure out our needs is to examine them when we feel the stress that arises in our lives. We ask ourselves “What is it that I want or need right now?” or “What would make my stress go away?” and then pay attention to and follow the answers we get. Our minds will tell us if we ask and are willing to hear the answers rather than censor our own thoughts so as to avoid uncomfortable answers. If we are not willing to face our own demons we will be forever bound to them. The choice may not be easy, but it is simple... are we going to continue to be a victim of our own thoughts or are we going to deal with them?
End of the Series
==> Return to Part 2: Locating the Source of Our Stress
© 2013 Allan Beveridge
References (*- denotes essays only available to site members of TheTwinPowers.com):
- Dealing With Strong Emotions Part 2
- Intent and Desire
- Dealing With Strong Emotions
- *Preference versus Need
- Learning To Accept Responsibility
- The Webs We Weave
- The Folly of Familiarity
- Automatic Writing: Writing from the Inside Out