Stress. It’s a single, seemingly harmless word but it invokes potent emotions: fear, failure, pressure, anxiety and more. All are powerful, and all of them negative.
“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” ~ Wayne W. Dyer
We have been conditioned to view stress as detrimental to our life and health whether it’s mental, emotional or physical. We have been taught to fear stress and to remove it as quickly as we can. If it doesn’t go away, we must go at it like battering rams, fighting the stress itself while feeling guilty for failing to remove it.
Stress takes on a life of its own. It is a malleable, changing creature. Stress is sensitive to our thoughts and behaviors and it slowly covers us with a finely woven net of frustration and despair. We end up battling stress itself rather than focusing on its root cause. We can't solve problems because we become distracted with it.
There was a moment when I was hit with two stressful events—problems at work and problems with my car. Then, the stress escalated. I became stressed because the problems at work meant I couldn't afford my gym membership. I became stressed because problems with my car meant I had to ride the bus everyday and I only had little time to cook a healthy dinner and prepare for the next day. I became stressed because I felt like I was losing precious minutes of sleep because I needed to close the window blinds before bed. Yes, that’s right. It got to the point where I was stressed about window blinds.
That’s how stress works. It begins with one thing, and when we don’t get right down to the cause and take care of it, it begins to sneak into other things. Eventually the small things that we would never think about twice become the reason why we suddenly burst into tears or begin snapping at people we love.
The problem with stress lies in our conditioning. It’s in the “agreement” we made that stress is a negative thing and must be demolished instantly or else it's our fault we have it. The agreement says we “shouldn‘t let stress get to us.”
When actually, it’s all based on our reaction, how we perceive and deal with stress. Stress is usually viewed as distress, negative stress, but there is such a thing as positive stress, also known as eustress. But before we start happily categorizing everything into eustress and distress, we have to analyze our own karma. The karma comes from how we react.
Stress has been shown to give us a burst of energy, that little bit of motivation we’ve been waiting for to finally tackle an issue head on. Who of us works best under pressure? I know there’s quite a few out there who excel in beating the deadline, myself included. And speaking of deadlines, deadlines are all about stress, but it means we finally get that kick in our butt to finish stuff that would otherwise get put off. Butterflies in our stomach before we go on stage? We end up giving the best performance ever. These are situations when stress can be considered positive, when we can call it eustress.
Eustress biologically puts our bodies and minds into high drive, pushing us to give our best, igniting our fight or flight instinct in every situation. How we use that stress is important. If we use it as a positive motivation, we can excel. However, when we react negatively toward something, it will rebound to us in a negative way. Trust me, karma isn't just for Justin Timberlake.
Stress also forces us to think. Have an issue without an obvious solution or time-tested answers just don’t work? Now, we have to think creatively. We have to reach into the back of our minds to come up with something. We have to go find people to talk to, to help us, to give us new perspectives.
If we continue to do the same old things over and over, we’ll never progress further than where we are now. Just think about the definition of insanity.
Stress forces us to spin the world as we know it on its head and start looking at things from a new angle. It’s how we continue to survive and create evolutionary changes in our society and species.
Instead of dwelling on the negative, a subconscious action that escalates stress, we have to begin looking for the positive outcomes, otherwise known as the silver lining in things. It's cheesy, I know, but it's a practice in changing your perspective. Lose a job? Now’s the chance to find something that fits what you want and need better. It’s not making light of a devastating event if we choose to “look on the bright side.” It’s essential to our survival.
Sometimes people tend to shut down completely. We become so overwhelmed that we turn into zombies going through our routine on auto-pilot. This happens in extreme times of distress, such as death or divorce. It can be debilitating, but our reaction still counts here.
Death of a loved one is an exceptionally stressful event, but we have to remain aware of our process of grief. Instead of allowing subconscious actions to come in, causing us to fall into a doldrum-like state of depression, we need to constantly be conscious of our karma, to continue living, functioning, and protecting ourselves. We are alive, no matter what is happening, and this is the most precious thing we will ever have.
Let’s cultivate karuna—compassion, ahimsa—kindness, and patience. Allow ourselves to guiltlessly experience our emotions, grief, pain and sadness because we're dealing with a stressful event. Give up a day or two to work through it in whatever way we feel we need—sleep, food, friends and family or a healthy escape.
Then, practice gratitude and aparigraha—non-attachment. We let go of that distress and transform it into a tool for us to progress and develop. Can we turn our distress into eustress? Absolutely. We have complete control over our karma, all based on how we choose to react.
Becoming more aware of our perspective and reaction, how closely they are related and how simple it can seem, we can turn stress from a negative, harmful experience to positive progressive growth.