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The real secret to dealing with stress
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You have the power to choose your attitude in this moment. Your stress and fear may come back two minutes later and you will have to make the choice again, but you can do it. Just take your life one moment at a time and keep consciously choosing your state. - photo by Kim Giles
Question:

I am dealing with some tough challenges including a really difficult job, and the stress is taking a huge toll on my health. I am very discouraged and frustrated and I dont see things changing anytime soon either. I just really wish I could control my stress level. Do you have any advice for me? Is there anything I can do to feel less buried?

Answer:

It is a normal part of the human condition to feel stressed and burned out on occasion, and there are definitely things you can do to brighten your outlook, lessen your suffering and lower your stress level. You can do things like get more organized and plan your time better, but I suspect from reading your letter that your real issue isn't a time management issue as much as an attitude issue. I think you would benefit most from understanding human emotion at a different level.

One of the most amazing books ever written on dealing with human emotions (in my opinion) is "Letting Go: The pathway to Surrender," by Sir David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D. a nationally renowned psychiatrist. Hawkins says, The real source of stress is actually internal; it is not external as most people would like to believe. The readiness to react with fear, for instance, depends on how much fear is already present within to the fearful person the world is a terrifying place. To the angry person the world is a chaos of frustration and vexation. To the guilty person it is a world of temptation and sin. What we are holding inside colors our world.

In other words, we see the world as we are. Circumstances just give us a chance to express what we already have inside us, and most of us have a great deal of fear of failure and loss inside us. We learned this fear from our parents, who probably learned it from their parents, and it probably is driving your attitude toward problems like an autopilot in your subconscious mind.

What this means is your circumstances are not the real cause of your stress, fear and discouragement, your reactivity (the way you subconsciously react) to the circumstances is. You subconsciously react to life with fear and stress.

This is good news (not bad news) because it means you have power to change the way you react to circumstances. You can change yourself on the inside and that will change how you feel about your life on the outside, even if you cant change the negative circumstances you are in.

The first step to changing how you feel is to understand human emotions in a different way and so you can process them more objectively. Dr. Hawkins created some fascinating charts on emotion and the levels of consciousness you should see. You can download my version of the levels of consciousness charts here.

These charts show that there are two main kinds of emotions. The first are fear-based negative emotions that produce unhappiness and suffering, and the second are trust- and love-based emotions that bring peace, joy and clarity. When you live on the lower end of the scale, you tend to have lower energy, poorer relationships and worse health. When you live on the higher end you tend to have more joy, more energy, better relationships and better health.

It is interesting to see the range of emotions laid out this way and it will help you to see all emotions as mindset options. It will also remind you that you are in control of your reactions. I keep these charts handy all the time to check myself on. Also remember that you may have a subconscious tendency towards a certain level of consciousness, but you can always consciously choose your way to another.

In a specific moment, you can step back from an emotion (like stress, anger or frustration) and look at it objectively and process the thinking behind it. When doing this focus more on the emotion though, than the thoughts. Thoughts are often illogical and can keep you going in circles. If you focus on resolving the emotion, like magic, all the negative thinking that came with it will disappear. Just like a picture is worth a thousand words, an emotion is worth a thousand thoughts.

I am going to teach you a simple procedure in this article you can use to help you process emotions, but first you might need to break what you are feeling down into small pieces. Hawkins says you sometimes experience a bunch of emotions at once (especially if we are dealing with a huge issue like the loss of a loved one or big life problems like divorce). If this is the case, you will want to process one small piece at a time. Start with one thing, like feeling that life isnt fair or the feeling of being overburdened by work.

Dr. Hawkins also says you must watch out for the three ways you might subconsciously deal with emotions, if you dont consciously choose to process them in a healthy way. They are to:

  1. Suppress them,
  2. Express them or
  3. Escape from them.
He says when overwhelmed by big, painful emotions it might serve you to express them (talk about them), suppress some of them temporarily, or even distract yourself through service or staying busy, until you have time to process them all fully. But for small day to day emotions like stress, anger or discouragement, suppressing and escaping are not healthy, and even expressing them may not serve you. Expressing negative emotions can at times give more power or energy to them and create even more misery. You will have to watch and decide if expressing is healthy or destructive in each situation. For example, complaining about your workload may not help your stress level at all.

I recommend processing emotions in a healthy way using the procedure below.

  1. Take some time and just sit with the emotion and explore how it feels. What is it exactly? Can you define it? Then ask yourself the following questions
  2. What am I feeling this for?
  3. Is it serving me in any way?
  4. Could it teach me anything useful?
  5. What is behind it? What am I really afraid of?
  6. What is that about? Is it serving me? What am I feeling it for?
  7. Where would this emotion fall on the levels of consciousness chart?
  8. Is this what I want to experience today or in this moment? Does it serve me or others?
  9. Do I have any other options? Could I choose gratitude? Could I choose to see life as a classroom, not a test, and detach my value from my performance? Could I choose to see the universe as a wise teacher and trust it knows what its doing and is trying to help me grow? Could I choose to do the work I have to do today while feeling safe, unburdened, peaceful and calm? Is that possible?
You have the power to choose your attitude in this moment. Your stress and fear may come back two minutes later and you will have to make the choice again, but you can do it. Just take your life one moment at a time and keep consciously choosing your state.

This will be an ongoing work to master your subconscious tendencies, but you can get control of yourself and experience more peace, energy and love. Learning to do this might be the main lesson you are on the planet to learn. Just keep working on it. Keep the levels of consciousness charts handy and practice doing what you do today from a state of calm, safety and trust that things will work out.

You can do this.
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