The best way to manage stress is to understand its foundation; where it comes from. Whether individuals want to admit it or not, stress begins with perception. The way we perceive a situation is the origin of stress. Of course that doesn’t mean that changing ones perception will eliminate stress. Eliminating stress would mean that we would stop being human. Learning to understand the origin of stress allows one to effectively manage the difficult situations that they encounter in their professional and personal lives.
Stress can be defined as, “a state of being or feeling experienced by a person who perceives that the requirements necessary to obtain something surpass the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.” There are two fundamental approaches that we can use to manage stress: “action-oriented” and “emotionally-oriented.” These two approaches offer alternative ways of perceiving and engaging in the challenging aspects of our endeavors.
2 Approaches For Managing Stress
1. Action-Oriented: This approach offers us ways to confront the challenges that cause us stress by helping us change the environment or situations that are presenting themselves to us. Notice that I say, “presenting themselves to us.” Our environment is a result of our internal experiences; how we think and feel about it. More accurately, our environment is a direct mirror of how we feel and think about things; the people, places and things in our life are a direct manifestation of our internal workings. For example, someone who doubts the possibility of generating a successful business will not be able to manifest one. Their actions will result in continually having unsuccessful business endeavors. This is how the science of the Universe works; the quantum physics of it. This way of thinking runs counter to the common view that our environment causes us stress; situations and events happen and we react to them with feelings. Have you ever caught yourself saying, “You make me angry or crazy.” It would be more accurate to say, “My interpretation of what you said makes me angry.” Our interpretation of our experiences creates our experiences. I know that sounds a bit philosophical, but watch the movie, “What The Bleep Do We Know,” and you’ll understand what I’m saying.
An action-oriented approach has nothing to do with achieving anything or getting out there to find one’s fortune. Rather than looking outside yourself to get things you want to create, look inside instead. The action that I would suggest is to clearly write down what you want to have happen in your life and wait and see what presents itself to you. If “what comes” to you matches what you wrote down then act on it. Otherwise, let it pass and wait for something to show up that mirrors your interests. Of course, taking a little action to “ignite” the Universe’s electrical circuits will help. Other than a little initial action that you put out, the rest is action coming to you that you act upon. This type of perspective has another element to it that states that every action taken corresponds to that action being manifested or mirrored in our environment over time. If something is bothering you, ask yourself what action can be taken to create a better scenario. For example, you may find that you don’t have enough time to spend with your children because you work too much. Simply, schedule time in for the kids and deal with the potential ramifications. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do your job effectively, you should. But not at the expense of your family life. Setting boundaries in this way can be difficult due to a fear of losing a job. Yet, if you value your family, then you should challenge yourself to find a happy medium. Your fear of losing a job may be true, and you’ll have to deal with that reality while taking action that works for everyone. Sit in the weight of, “If I do this, then I may lose my job. Yet, I feel that I am being fair and so will risk that harsh reality.” If you are fair and clearly communicate your needs, it should be fine.
To quote William Glasser,“At this stage of our evolution, we have almost total control over the doing component, some over the thinking component, almost none over the feeling component, and even less over the physiological component of our total behavior. Because we always have control over the doing component of our behavior, if we markedly change that component, we cannot avoid changing the thinking, feeling, and physiological components as well. The more we get involved in an active doing behavior that is markedly different from what we were doing when choosing a misery, like depressing or headaching, the more we will also change what we think, feel, and experience from our bodies. And if what we do gives us better control, it will be accompanied by better feelings, more pleasant thoughts, and greater physical comfort.” (Control Theory, pg. 51 – 52).
2. Emotionally-Oriented: Feelings are a huge challenge for most people because they generally play victim to their feelings, believing that outside forces cause their feelings. We now know that this isn’t true and that our perspective of persons, events and things causes us to feel certain things. My point in addressing feelings in this way is to help individuals understand how glorious ALL feelings can be. Both “good” and “bad” feelings offer us profound insight into what it means to be a human being. Learning how to embrace feelings as they occur while choosing behaviors that create the most value within the given circumstance allows us to create a highly fulfilling life. A person can feel really bad, be thinking thought of anguish and turmoil while cooking a romantic dinner for their significant other. I know this sounds crazy, but this is the reality of the human condition as mentioned by William Glasser in the above quote. If we view a situation negatively, then we will have negative feelings. Now, I am not saying that we shouldn’t have negative feelings. Life is very challenging and often result in “negative” feelings. A person fighting to overcome cancer probably isn’t going to be “giddy” with happiness. I am merely trying to avoid a victim consciousness when it comes to our feelings. We choose negative feelings and those negative feelings may be the best thing for us. Ideas of depression or emotional instability result in physiological responses that we choose to engage in to help us cope with some of life’s harsh realities. The point is that our feelings don’t have to control us; negative feelings don’t have to result in negative actions.
I would like to offer my theory, Perceptual Analysis Screen Sequence (P.A.S.S.), as a framework around which individuals could assist themselves in becoming more autonomous regarding the ownership of their thoughts or consciousness, and so, by default, ownership of their words, and feelings. P.A.S.S. is about analyzing one’s perceptions in order to screen out the habitual thought patterns or sequence of thoughts and then to reorder or create a new sequence that better serves each individual. An important point is that you can’t really just change thinking patterns or resist them. What one resists will persist. Just by observing the habitual thoughts, without judgment, one will naturally begin to choose new behaviors. P.A.S.S. is very much like what occurs when flour is sifted with a screen. A big jumble of flour is placed on the screen and gently sifted to keep out anything that is not flour. What was a big mess of flower becomes a neat, clear, more spread out, and so organized pile. P.A.S.S. allows an individual to take their jumbled defensive thoughts, understand them, and choose which ones they want. Observance is analogous to the screen that sifts the flour, it becomes that screen, but for thoughts. It allows individuals to observe their thoughts, without judgment of their cause, and choose what is most effective and responsible, rather than responding with habitual defensiveness.
There exists many modalities or techniques by which this can be accomplished. Examples include: consulting change agents, psychologists, journal writing, poetry, Buddhist chanting and meditation, acting, writing, or basically anything that enables one to see their thinking patterns beyond their intellect or rational minds. For example, when one journals consistently, if they pay attention, they will begin to see a pattern form, possibly fear or optimism regarding love, work, family, or whatever. A technique is only as good the intention behind it. P.A.S.S. frames ones intention to be more specifically aware of defense mechanisms, defensive routines or other erroneous thought patterns that may not serve the individual. The goal is to become more aware of the individual’s role in using some of these techniques or change modalities. The change agents goal is to facilitate self-awareness, and unless we take ownership of this process, these activities can degenerate into additional intellectual analysis, devoid of emotion, self-evaluation or real change. And that is what I mean by getting past the intellect or rational mind; the mind is merely the tool by which we can develop our being. Often, we stop there and truly believe an intellectual understanding of information is enough. If information were truly enough, no one would smoke, take drugs or overeat. P.A.S.S. can be a bridge between intellectual understanding and the experiential understanding we can achieve when we integrate our mind with our bodies, spirit and emotions.