The experience of stress is a topic that everyone can relate to. We all experience it from time to time and some of us experience it frequently.
How we manage stress can vary greatly from person to person and can make all the difference in the damage it can do us.
What changes the experience of stress for each of us is our perception of this stressor and how we respond in real time in the moment.
It’s worthwhile to become aware of our own patterns as it can allow us some awareness into our triggers and to begin to learn new ways of moving through stress without its cumulative effects impacting our body and minds.
What might your initial response be when something unexpected or unfortunate happens?
In Buddhism they talk about these stress responses as the “five hindrances” because these patterns become habitual ways people react to challenging circumstances that cloud clear judgment and block access to sound decision making. We all have varying combinations in response to different circumstances.
If your car breaks down on the way to work for example, we may find ourselves engaging in any of these reactions. Most of us identify most strongly with one or two of these.
- Do you start fretting? This inner dialogue might look something like this: “I’m going to be so late now that I’ll probably lose my job and I’m lucky to have a job in the first place in these times and it will be the very reason I lose it…”etc etc. This is where our minds start worrying on a loop about real or imagine situations that haven’t happened yet.
- Do you get angry and blame others? This response could see you pick up the phone to yell at your partner for not knowing this could happen earlier! In this reaction our first instinct is to look to another person to find fault and let loose all our frustration and anger.
- Do you tend to lose heart and feeling defeated. “Ok well that’s it. My car will probably never work again and there’s probably no point doing anything.I’ll wait for the tow truck to take it to the wreckers and I won’t be able to go to work today or probably the rest of the week as I’ll just need to recover.
- Personalising: This inner dialogue seems to always finds a way to blame yourself. “This always happens to me, If only I had left 5 minutes earlier I would have passed this spot it would have been ok. It’s all my fault, I’m not fit to be driving, I don’t deserve a car…”It’s linked to insecurity, self-blame and lack of confidence.
- Sensual Soothing: This might be distracting ourselves with anything other than the issue be it eating a sugary treat, shopping, pouring a glass of wine.
The good news is with some awareness and attention we literally have the power to re-wire our brains.
Learning ways to self-soothe to disrupt these patterns is a vital part of taking control of what we truly have the capacity to control – our responses, reactions and inner experiences.
A remedy here is to look at the R.A.I.N formula, a Buddhist method for investigating our reactions.
R: Recognize it. Recognise the thought, the inclination. Sometimes its helpful in this space to name the emotion we are feeling. It’s in this recognition, we are beginning to allow ourselves to be separated from our thoughts, to witness them but know we are much more than our thoughts. This non-identification acknowledges that this is just a passing process that comes and goes, not who we are.
A: Accept it. This doesn’t mean being resigned to it, but accepting that’s what we feel like doing in that moment and finding some self-compassion.
I: Investigate it, be curious. What is it like? • Physically (How does it feel in the body? Is it pleasant? Unpleasant? Does it change?) • Emotionally • Energetically (such as feelings of rushing, sinking or lifting) • Cognitively (What beliefs or stories do we tell ourselves?) • Motivationally (is there an urge to act or cling?)
Part of this investigation might be to talk about this with a trusted person – this can be a friend, family member and confidante or even a therapist.
N: Nurture. The mind, body and soul need soothing after stress. It allows us to more easily find the deep self-compassion we truly need. Types of nurturing that offer real comfort, not just another numbing device are things like walks in nature, deep breathing exercises, activities with a mind body connection like gentle exercise, yoga or relaxation meditation. See the stressful experience through to the end with the support of some true comforting and nurturing time.
It’s helpful to first explore the hindrance and investigate it. Often just recognizing a hindrance is enough for it to fall away, but like any muscle, forming new pathways takes time and practice.
Why not take this time and as the whole world is shaken up and turned on its head to allow our brains and bodies to absorb new ways of healing the damage that stress does and finding freedom.
Rebecca Eather is a Clinical Hypnotherapist and Counsellor at Shift Clinic and can help find remedies and creative solutions to our default patterns in times of stress that do not serve us. She works gently and cooperatively with people needing help with anxiety, depression, stress management, addiction, grief and loss, life transitions, low self-esteem and healthier relationships.