“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.”
― Wayne W. Dyer
Stress. This single, seemingly harmless word invokes a myriad of emotions and words: fear, failure, pressure, anxiety. All negative reactions. 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 causing guilt to ourselves for failing to remove it.
Stress takes on a life of its own. It's really amazing what a malleable, changing creature it is. It is incredibly sensitive to our thoughts and behaviors and slowly covers us with a finely woven net of frustration and despair. We end up battling stress itself rather than focusing on the root cause of it. It is a distraction leading us away from solving our life's problems.
I got hit with two stressful events- problems at work and problems with my car. Then, suddenly, the stress escalated. I became stressed with the fact I wasn't exercising enough and began letting myself make bad food choices. I became stressed with wanting to just sit and read a book but feeling like I needed to clean the house and cook dinner. I became stressed with how it felt like I was the only one closing the window blinds at night at home. Yes, that's right, 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 of it and take care of it, it begins to sneak its way into other things. Eventually, the small things that we would never think twice about become the reason why we suddenly burst into tears or begin snapping at people we love.
The problem with stress lies in our conditioning, in the "agreement" we made that stress is a negative thing and must be demolished instantly or else, we are to blame for its existence. We "shouldn't let stress get to us."
Actually, it's all based on our reaction. There is such a thing as positive stress, also known as eustress, as opposed to distress- negative stress. But before we start happily categorizing everything into eustress and distress, we have to analyze our own karma. How we react is our karma, and when we react negatively towards something, it will rebound to us in a negative way.
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? There's quite a few out there who excels in beating the deadline. And speaking of deadlines, all it denotes is stress, but we finally get that kick in our butt to get things done that would otherwise get put off. Butterflies in our stomach before we go on stage? We end up giving the best performance ever. That stress biologically puts our bodies and minds into high drive, pushing us to give our best, igniting our fight or flight instinct in every situation.
Stress also forces us to really 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 really 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. It forces us to spin the world as we know it on its head and start looking at things from a new eye. It's how we continue to survive, creating evolutionary changes in our society and species. If we continue to do the same old things over and over, we'll never progress further than where we are now.
Instead of dwelling on the negative, which is generally a subconscious action and escalates stress, we have to begin looking for the positive outcomes. It's the silver lining in things. Lose a job? Now's the chance to find something that fits what we 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 we turn into zombies going through our routine on auto-pilot. This happens in extreme times of distress, such as death or divorce. Our reaction still counts here. Death of a loved one is an extremely 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.
Let's cultivate karuna- compassion, ahimsa- kindness, and patience. Allow ourselves to experience our emotions, our grief, our pain and sadness due to a stressful event. Give up a day or two to work through it in whatever way we feel we need through sleep, food, friends and family, escape. Then, practice aparigraha- non attachment. We let go of that stress and transform it into a tool for us to progress and develop. We have complete control over our karma and it is all based on how we choose to react.
Change our reaction, and we will turn stress from a negative, harmful experience to a positive, progressive growth.