A New Perspective on Stress
A different way to look at why we feel stress in the first place.
Before you scroll through this article, just keep in mind, this isn’t a technique — it’s a different understanding as to why we get stressed in the first place.
This isn’t about a breathing method or a new habit. It’s about a change in the way we view how and why stress happens. The understanding in itself makes any action obvious. I know it’s tempting to scroll to the bottom but I promise you if you take the time to read this slowly you’ll get the a lot more out of it.
Understanding how something works is more powerful than a technique
Whatever it is in life, when we actually understand how it works, it’s no longer a guessing game as to what to do. We don’t need to follow what anybody says in hopes that they are right, we know the answer automatically.
This applies to nearly everything, whether it’s how a computer works or how the economy works — following something that worked for somebody else may work for you for a certain amount of time, but when it stops working, what do you do?
When we’re children, we’re naturally curious. We like to figure things out. We ask why until our parents’ ears bleed. But as we age, our curiosity becomes curbed. Life becomes an endless treadmill. We end up stumbling and grasping at anything we can get our hands on to make it to the next breath.
It’s like the floor is lava, and it’s constantly rising.
I don’t know the state of mind you’re in right now while you are reading this, but if you’re feeling stressed out, slow down for a minute and give yourself some space to take it in. I am inviting you to read it slowly so you can really get the most out of it.
Understanding the feedback mechanism
Many modern cars have feedback sensors. They will tell you when the oil is low, when the engine has a problem, and so forth. You are not forced to respond to them, but it’s wise to do so and they’re actually there to help you. The whole point is for you to have a smooth driving experience.
Human beings have a feedback mechanism too — an emotional feedback mechanism.
Many of us try to mute the indicator. Like putting a sticker on one of the warning lights on your dash, it actually misses the point. When we don’t understand what the indicator means, the noise itself is annoying because we can’t get it to turn off.
It’s much more helpful to understand what the indicator is pointing to rather than to trying to shut it off.
We often try to make the feeling of stress go away instead of actually understanding and listening to what the feeling is pointing us to. By doing that, we misinterpret the indicator in just the same way.
What is the stress indicator pointing to?
Human beings have one incredible gift that we so often use without being aware of: our freedom of thought.
Without getting too deep into a philosophical debate, it seems like common sense that right now in this moment, you have the simple ability to think what you choose. You have the ability to entertain a thought, or you can let a thought pass.
In the same way that your internet connection has bandwidth, you can think of your mental space in any moment as bandwidth for your mind, like an empty canvas that we can fill with thoughts. You can fill this space up with what you choose to, or allow its contents to pass.
The more you fill up that space with thoughts, the more clogged it gets.
When everyone in your home is downloading movies and your internet begins to slow down, it’s uncomfortable. In the same way, when your mental space is clogged, stuffed full of thoughts, it’s stressful.
The stress is a feedback mechanism, or an indicator, that you’re using your freedom of thought to stuff your mental space with thoughts.
Seeing that connection is its own action
If you can see, even just for a second, that the reason you feel stressed in any moment is simply because you are stuffing your mind full of stressful thoughts, then you don’t even need a technique to stop stress.
If you understand the cause of stress, then you can address it at the root.
As a metaphor, imagine you were squeezing a hot coal and felt pain from it. If you understand instinctively that the pain you feel is merely an indicator to the fact that you’re squeezing a hot coal, then the obvious step would be to drop it. You don’t need to think about it.
In the same way, if you are entertaining all sorts of stressful thoughts in any given moment, then that’s the actual cause of your stress. The moment you stop entertaining those thoughts, they pass naturally, and you return to a natural state of calm.
Natural state of calm
A “natural state of calm” is a weird sentence for those of us that are used to living stressful lives. It seems like the natural state is stress, and calm is what we have to fight for.
But let’s flip the tables for a second. What if your natural state is calm, and you had just been fighting it this entire time?
As human beings, when we let go of trying to control our thinking, we naturally relax. Our state of mind relaxes and expands.
It’s the belief that stress is the default that keeps us in the cycle of fighting our own calmness. When we believe our natural state is stress, we mentally fight to stay calm. While we do that, we feel stressed. Ironic, isn’t it?
When you fight the river, the river fights you.
Our state of mind naturally expands and relaxes when we don’t interfere with it. When we allow thoughts to pass as they do, we come to a place of inner spaciousness rather easily. We naturally relax. It’s built-in to the system.
See for yourself, what happens when you take your hands of the wheel and allow your thoughts to pass naturally. How do you feel? What’s underneath? What new thoughts come from that space?
A relaxed state of mind makes it easier to deal with life
When we’re feeling relaxed and in the rhythm of life, we open ourselves up to insights. Think of insights as the opposite of tunnel-vision. If you’ve ever had a thought pop into your head, like a wisp of inspiration, then you know what I mean.
People can be stressed from the smallest things, and people can be relaxed in objectively stressful situations. It’s all about perception. It doesn’t matter so much that there’s chaos outside, it’s about what’s going on in your head.
Most of us entertain stressful thoughts in the first place because we think life is inherently stressful and we need to match our thinking to it or we’ll be eaten alive.
When you wear red glasses, the world looks red. Similarly, our state of mind at any moment colours our perception of the world.
When you’re feeling stressed, the world looks like a stressful place. Likewise, when you’re in a relaxed state of mind, everything seems to flow easily. The world looks nice.
How the world feels in any moment is only revealing your own state of mind back to you.
When you’re in a relaxed state of mind, there’s space for helpful insights to come into your awareness to help with situations you need to deal with. When you’re in an expanded state of mind, you see more.
Stress is a helpful indicator to let you know what you’re doing with your thinking, even though it looks like the world. The world reflects your state of mind in the moment.
How this pertains to chronic stress
When we don’t understand the cause of stress, we stress ourselves trying to fix our stress. It looks like the world is stressful so we try to fix the world in order to be stress-free. This is an infinite cycle, like chasing your own shadow.
If we can see that this is all based on a false assumption, and that stress is actually just an indicator that you’re using your freedom of thought to push against your natural state of calm, then you no longer fall into the illusion that stress is happening to you, or that your world is inherently stressful.
When someone realizes they’re fighting themselves, they naturally stop. Similarly speaking, as you open up to living in the flow of your own relaxed insightful nature, you will notice how much more pleasant your life becomes.