The irony of stress, and the impending challenge to rid yourself of it, is due to stress being a contrived state of mind. You create it yourself, it is not a third-party virus of any sort. Then, that same mind that induced the stress is elected quarterback in the drive to dump stress from its own, often well-guarded, realms.
Harvard’s Daniel Wegner described this “ironic process” as when we attempt to deny or resist a certain thought with our mind (read: telling yourself not to eat that second piece of cake). In his study he points out how often our efforts at self-control end in failure.
Of course, there are those strong-willed folk who brazenly will themselves through their goals. Fine. But the lingering stress of constantly “winning” mental battles must be exhausting.
And then there are those who follow simple steps to deal with stress. For instance, you could follow the strikingly ambivalent and broad advice of this NYT blog article on dealing with small business stress. “Identify the real problem” is the first step; another is “forgive yourself.”
Not only are these pieces of advice dull and loosely defined, but it also means battling the same demons each and every time you find yourself stressed out.
I say, why not shoot higher. Why not seek to understand the root of stress and, in so doing, garner yourself a foothold in future stress reduction exercises. In other words, why not try to win the war instead of fighting the battles.
Author, and dare-I-say-it “guru”, Emma Seppala recently reported on some new findings in the (Western) neurological community related to the topic. The crux of these findings is that the mind may have two separate and distinct attentions.
While we’re certainly accustomed to thinking of “attention” as a synonym for “focus” – think: “pay attention” – it can also be a synonym for awareness. The two attentions refer to an awareness of out-of-body happenings (the world around us) and a personal, inward awareness. It’s this second one that we ignore too often and causes us to lose awareness of stress factors.
I’m being vague, aren’t I? Let’s try this: if we know what causes us stress, we can work on a remedy. If we know what is going to cause us stress, we can prepare accordingly.
Surely, there are those who are simply better at dealing with stress. And yes, I know, some of these people don’t have to work as hard. But, some do. The Dalai Lama puts in a 17-hour day and leads millions of Tibetans.
Yoga, meditation, breathing exercises – these things are proven to help with long-term stress reduction. But, there are other ways of dealing; other ways of refining your second attention.
In short, any stress reduction method comes down to one singular idea – an idea examined by second attention research. That idea is that you only get stressed, because you allow yourself to be stressed in the first place. That’s the big ticket here. That’s the way to win the war.
Second attention research is moving toward proving this idea. Eastern beliefs may have gotten there a few thousand years ago. Either way, it’s an interesting tidbit to relate back to your life. Why are you stressed? Because you allow yourself to be. How can you improve this? Harness your second attention toward self-awareness. Use the brain as an examiner and not a proponent in the solving problems it created.
I’ll leave you here to go forward. The irony of stress can be the whispers of a song you used to sing. Just pay attention, inside.