A Deeper Look at Stress
Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors
A Deeper Look at Stress6 spiritual steps to help you cope.
Of all the things that people have in common around the world, stress and suffering rank at the top of the list. Regardless of how much you make, your age, looks, culture, or job, you likely do not escape frustration and aggravation with ease - it’s a part of being on planet Earth. Fortunately, we also share the ability to rise above these things, and in many cases we can even learn to heal the stress and suffering in our lives. Spiritual traditions have long been the refuge from stress with simple techniques and philosophies that can transform daily life.
It is easy to feel that stress and suffering are unavoidable or that somehow you are doomed to face them again and again. This helpless feeling stems from the mistaken assumption that our emotions need to drive our decisions and our lives. The strong emotions that create suffering are rooted in either hurts of the past or unfulfilled expectations of the present.
A spouse, friend, or boss who talks to you the way a parent did while in a cruel or impatient mood will trigger the same old feelings, as if you were a child encountering the hurt again. If you have an expectation that people should always be polite or that airplanes should always be on time or that traffic should not be heavy when you are late, then you will consistently encounter the stress of that disappointment.
A spiritual perspective says that emotions like anger, anxiety, and sadness are normal and need to be felt, but when it comes to making decisions and taking action, we need to look deeper. It is possible to be less driven by old hurts and release the tight grip on unrealistic expectations. Learning about the power of perception and the mind-body connection can turn everything around. Here are six timeless techniques for managing or ending stress and suffering.
- Breathe. When stress rises, the body moves in to a reaction mode: the body tightens, the mind races, and it is hard to gain a better perspective. Try taking some deep breaths. Breathe in through the nose, and instead of puffing your chest out, try imagining that you are sending the breath into your belly – push your stomach muscles out. Then, notice where you are tense or tight, and imagine you are breathing it all out your mouth, slowly and easily. When you are in a difficult moment, take at least 2 full minutes to be with your breath.
- Stick to the Facts. One way we create our experience of stress and suffering is through emotional ideas like worry and regret. Instead of keeping our attention in the present moment and focusing on the limited truth we know for certain, too often we spend our energy on worrying about things that haven’t happened, or we dwell on the past we regret. Remember, “sticking to the facts” doesn’t include judgments like “She’s wrong” or “He’s a fool” or “What if I lose my job?” Those are emotional ideas, not facts.
- Forgive. The cornerstone of most spiritual philosophies lies in learning to forgive. Forgiveness does not mean that you pretend you are not hurt by someone or something, nor does it mean you condone a cruel or harmful act. Forgiveness does mean that you are committed to letting go of the energy, stories, and actions you have become caught up in. Forgiveness means that you are committed to letting go and moving on. It doesn’t start with a feeling; it starts with a decision. Start by changing the way you act and think, and then, eventually, the feelings will follow.
- Learn from Everything. Another common spiritual perspective that transforms hard times is to look for the lesson in each situation life presents. Even the most unpleasant and unexpected situations can offer you a great chance to learn what to do better next time or what to avoid or heal in your life. This is about the power of optimism and the ability to take a disappointment and turn it into something that makes you a better person.
Failed relationships can teach you things like the importance of having clear boundaries, the importance of good communication, the importance of trust, or how to let go of self-doubt. A loss of work can open a door to find new opportunities, refine your focus on what gives you joy, or show you where you have things to improve.
- Set Inner Intentions. One of the biggest hooks that catches most people in life is attachment to outer goals and desires. Spiritual traditions have long been warning people about how dangerous it is to place all your hopes and intentions on wealth, sex, beauty, a dream house, and clothing. These things come and go and are based on things we cannot always control. Even the most wealthy find that possessions can be taken away at a moment’s notice, and the desires of life often go unfulfilled.
- Commit to a Spiritual Practice. A spiritual practice is a regular time out from life to do something that helps you to feel at peace, learn about yourself, and connect to a sense of what is important. It is a time apart from stress and helps put pain and loss in perspective. It could be taking a daily walk in nature (without cell phone), meditation before work, prayer before bed, yoga, Tai Chi, bible study, volunteering at the hospital, or working in a garden. The key is to make it regular, intentional, and a non-competitive, non-work related activity. It should last long enough that you get a real break from the rush and demands of life.