The most common stress complaint that I hear is about work. This isn’t uncommonly uncommon as I do manage one of the biggest Work Related Stress & Well-being groups on LinkedIn. But nonetheless, it is an area I have worked in for a long time and have yet to be un-curious to discover the delusional dichotomy that my clients play out on their mind. I will never cease to be amazed at the desire most people have to focus on what stresses them, in sacrifice to what inspires them. In historical terms, the human sacrifices of our civilization is the individual – ourselves.
I’ll never forget the day when I attended a ‘Workplace Stress Management’ seminar presented for a few stressed-out employees of a national television company. It was astonishing. The instructor actually promoted the idea of taking five minutes an hour to find a quiet place where you can hide (from your boss) and do some breathing exercises. I mean, seriously? That means, as an employer, I’m paying you to sit in a corner and cry for 40 minutes a day. In case you didn’t know, you’re fired.
I remember when I first picked up Dr. Hans Selye’s book ‘Stress’ wherein the introduction he stated his gratitude for his lifelong companion (stress) for all it taught him about life. The Doctor of Stress himself praised stress for its ingenuity, compassion and transformative agenda. This moment, remembered inside a small book store in Ottawa, Canada, validated everything I had come to know about the angelic devil that we name stress.
Stress has such a wide variety of applications- spiritual, mental, vocational, financial, family, social, physical- and a wider variety of coping mechanisms. A coping mechanism, being a mechanism, is innately bound to fail as all mechanical things wear out and need repair. So for me, whenever I hear the words ‘coping mechanism’, I tend to laugh a little bit inside. I don’t mean that as a critical punch to some great people doing great work in the world, but intentionally to the person who feels they need to cope with a feeling they themselves create.
Let’s be clear. Stress is not something that comes out of nothing. It’s an effect of a cause and for most people’s expression, that cause is always external. In truth, the cause is internal. Stress is not an effect of the world on to you, it’s an effect of how you respond to the world you perceive. That means, coping mechanisms are only ever used to try and cope with yourself and your preprogrammed reactions to stimuli you label stressful.
I’ve met more people who are stressed about their job, their relationship, their finances and all other areas, than people who are in love with what others stress about. But they do exist. Some people thrive in stress. They love it like a child discovering a new way to play, but they still experience it. For me, the fact that these people do exist, tells me that stress is not a wrong state of being any more than a right one.
But what makes them different? How do some people seem to handle stress better than others? I’ve studied this question both professionally (through others) and personally (through myself) and came to conclude that those who handle it better tend to do more of what they love doing. They persistently and relentlessly delegate as much as they can that doesn’t inspire them. They remain focused on their own state of mind, being and vision or chief aim and they act and react in ways that keep them authentic and progressively profitable towards their lifelong dreams. They take care of their bodies and eat nourishing foods and fill their mind with things that inspire them. They make choices for themselves first and then those they care to serve. They’re strong enough to see that stress is a part of life, so you might as well do whatever you can to live a great one.
This being a true observation, in every case, tells me that stress isn’t a wrong thing to experience, but actually a right thing that we need in order to survive.
My personal truth is that if you’re not doing what you love, you are dying doing what you despise. It’s not easy to do what you love. In fact, it’s likely the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but your life does depend on it. I’ve just scratched the surface at doing what I love and even that has been stressful. Because of that, in my personal view, stress is a guide. Not a guide in the sense that it’s telling you who or what to escape or stay away from to avoid feeling stress. But it is a guide that tells you where you need to grow. What decisions you could make that could help you. What actions you could take that could empower you. What you need to learn in order to understand and have gratitude for the world around you.
It’s rare that I ever meet someone who is expressively stressed by doing something they love doing. Stressed people generally are doing things that don’t inspire them. This is what makes workplace stress so interesting. If the ‘stressors’ weren’t there, people would still be doing jobs they don’t love. That’s why I consider workplace stress, especially when it’s cause by people (external), to be such a hideout for a more core challenge – that you aren’t doing all you can for the life you dream of living.
Now, that’s not all the time. Some people are doing what they love and are still stressed. But the difference is, at the end of the day, they are doing what they love regardless of what stress they have. Imagine that. What if your ‘fall-back stress coping mechanism’ was living loving what you do?
Consider this. We all have smart-phones with video recorders now, or at least we know someone who has one. Borrow it and record yourself ranting about what is stressing you about your life. Now ask yourself, honestly, if this person (you) came up to you and started saying exactly what you just said, would you take them out for coffee or would you try and run away? Now ask yourself this question – are you inspired by the words that come out of your mouth on that video recording? If not, change. We either learn to control our responses to stress and stay focused, internally and expressively, on what we love, or we play the never ending game of stress, hoping that some day it will just stop.
A hard truth – stress never gets smaller, but we can become bigger.
Exercise: Look to the future – What specifically is stressing me? Can I admit to myself that I am the one creating my stress response? Yes? Good. How is my stress and the initiator of my stress, benefiting me? What’s it helping me do? What options is it giving me? What is it focusing me in on? What is it getting me to think about that can help me? What am I doing that stresses me and how can that action help me achieve my dreams?
How is my stress helping me be greater?
At the end of the day, stress is just your own inability to adapt to an environment that is changing, challenging and supporting. When we see more challenge than support, more negative than positive, more bad than good, for criticism than praise, we create stress because we can’t see the benefits. But there are benefits, they are just sometimes hard to see at first. I’m not saying stress is a choice, because we’re generally not taught how to ask questions to help our brains balance out the day. But I am saying that it is our choice to learn the right questions to ask and the right actions to take to help our being and those around us, live so that our next moment be greater and graceful.
Stephan Gardner is a Stress & Emotion Specialist with a luminary understanding of human behaviour, emotions and life transformation. Educated at The Demartini Institute and a proficient student of personal and spiritual development, his mission is to inspire you to new levels of life fulfilment through work, wisdom, and love.