How Easy Is It To Relieve Stress?
Everyone has stress, and if you ask anyone, it seems to get heavier and more extreme the more modern our lives become. It is a commonly accepted piece of the human existence. All people can benefit from the reduction of stress. Studying stress and ways to remove or reduce it has become a serious industry, including scientific studies, medical research, and a booming market for legitimate information and snake oil salesman. So, is it too much to ask to feel a sense of calm in a life that can bring chaos at any moment?
I have problems dealing with stress. We all do. I used to think I could deal with my own stress by acknowledging the fact that stressful events are going to come and I should expect it and prepare for it. If the outcome was positive, I was grateful, and if it was negative, I thought I was ready for it. Very pessimistic view, I know. And for all you fellow pessimists out there, it didn’t work. The anxiety was stifling. My fight or flight system never got a break. There’s no amount of sleep to recover from it, and it will eventually show itself physically in any number of ways.
Another problem I discovered is how goal-oriented I am. I don’t like to set goals unless I can reliably reach them in a short amount of time. (I’m also impatient) So I either don’t do it at all or I work feverishly toward my goal until I reach it. I do it to prove my worth to myself and others. Other people seek their goals for other reasons, like seeking power or prestige, but there is always some sort of imagined prize or reward at the end we think will provide pleasure and happiness. But, guess what? Goal seeking is an attachment. Attachments always have bad outcomes. They always cause suffering and stress.
So, how do we eliminate it? Buddha taught the end of suffering is the end of all attachment. Most of us can’t even conceive of a life without at least some attachment. For instance, I’m hopelessly attached to my loved ones, my pets, my computer, and being here on this physical plane having this amazing experience. And chocolate…I think chocolate should be on the short list. So if we can’t eliminate attachment, should we just accept the stress and all the bad that comes with it, and chalk it up to living? No. There’s a simple and incredibly difficult answer.
If one wants to prevent stress and anxiety, one must unlearn and relearn how to process the world he encounters. I told you it wasn’t easy. Stress feels like it’s coming from outside us, but really it is generated inside us. It’s a software issue! People, places, objects, events…they are all interpreted and labeled by our mind. We give them validity, we give them permanence, and we inject them with meaning. We give them some of ourselves. We make them personal. But, guess what? They aren’t. All the people, places, objects, and events we encounter during our daily patterns of living are independent from us. Nothing is happening TO us. We respond to outside stimuli.
We feel stress because we are invested. If we disconnect from these things, the stress we feel fades away. If we end attachment, we end the anxiety. I know, easier said than done. I told you it was difficult. I’m sure I’ll be working on this one forever. I’m going to try to attack one stimulus at a time until I can maybe see what I need to see to tackle it on a grander scale. Maybe we should meditate on it!
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