Stress. It’s a word we’re all familiar with and a feeling we’ve all experienced.
We know it’s the silent killer. We know it contributes to heart attacks and strokes.
We know how stress feels when we have lousy co-workers. We know how it feels when a partner is unreliable. We know how it feels when the kids never seem to listen. We know how it feels when we’re running late. We know how it feels when we look at the insurmountable to-do list. We know how it feels when we add one more commitment to our life. We know how it feels when finances are tight. We know how it feels to feel sick or in pain. We know how it feels to believe that all of this is just a fact of life.
All of those are certainly stressful situations, but my definition of stress is something a bit different.
The way we react to these situations is what creates stress, and this response is often different from one person to another. And the ways we react are usually rooted in a belief system that’s been hanging around for a really long time, one that’s more like a lurking predator.
It’s these unconscious workings that are the real stressors.
So let’s break one of these examples apart.
Feeling dissatisfied at work is something I hear about often. Let’s take the example of Esther, a woman who is on a team of five, and is fed up with her job. Her co-workers are lazy and always asking her to pick up their slack. It’s like they think she doesn’t have enough to do already. Esther also feels her skills aren’t valued, and that she’s always stuck working projects that underutilize her strengths.
With inquiry, Esther discovers that her resentment isn’t tied to her coworkers’ characteristics; rather, they are connected with her frustration in being overworked, which is perpetuated by her belief that she can’t say no. Esther continues to say yes to her co-workers’ every request, even though her plate is completely full. She begins to notice the pattern of taking responsibility for others’ problems. “If I don’t help out, they may not find anyone else, and they’ll really be in a bind” is a common thread of thought. Even further inquiry leads to a belief that’s followed her around since grade school. Her mother instilled the belief that serving others was the path to righteousness through both language and her own lifestyle. Only her definition of serving others left her frazzled and empty, rather than full and rewarded. By watching her mother, Esther learned how to be. In fact, she even remembered a moment vividly, where at a young age, her mom implied that backing out on a commitment to help an elderly neighbor with yard work despite having a migraine would result in punishment.
It’s in creating these connections that Esther begins to see how a belief system ingrained at a young age is still showing up and calling the shots in her 30s. Once she gained awareness of her patterns, she was able to learn new skills to help her communicate more effectively with her co-workers and boss and plan accordingly. “I’d love to help you out. I can work on that project next week once I finish these other priorities. Does that work for you?” Her co-workers had the choice to say yes or find another solution to their issue. Esther was not responsible for their stress. Despite Esther’s fears of angering them or appearing incapable and ruining a relationship (which had already happened with her giving a false yes), they appreciated her honesty. Over time, the relationships with her co-workers didn’t seem so strained, and she began to apply her new communication skills toward negotiating projects that were better suited to her skillset.
Holding the belief that you can’t say no is a big one for many people, whether that applies to work, family or social situations. Saying no is tremendously hard in our achievement-oriented, can-do, selfless society (An Epidemic of Selflessness). By examining the underlying belief systems that support this detrimental pattern and learning how to rewire the belief, you find more ease and less stress in life.
The root stressor isn’t usually obvious right off the bat. Sometimes it takes a lot of digging. Through asking questions and paying attention to emotions and your body, the answers find a way to reveal themselves.
Sometimes the result is a huge release of stress. Other times it’s the beginning of learning a new way to be.
And when we get to this point, the physical symptoms that manifest from stress, like digestive issues, anxiety, depression, headaches, chronic pain, etc, begin to diminish. (Stress is related to much more than heart attacks or strokes!)
So, when I talk about stress, it’s usually the inner critic that has a front row seat in our mind or the stuff that’s buried deep within our unconscious bodymind. It’s the internal factors moreso than the external factors.
Once we learn that we have choice in everything and find our power to act on choice, the external influencers lose their power.
About: Kara McNabb is a naturopathic practitioner who focuses on the mind-body connection and uses a variety of modalities and remedies to assist in wellness. She works with adults and children.