My patients ask me about stress all the time. Can stress be causing their migraines? Keeping them from getting pregnant? Making them sick in some way?
We all have stress in our lives… jobs, kids, family, parents, illness. There are very few times in life where things are just rolling along perfectly smoothly… something is almost always ‘up’. So what are we to do?
Perhaps one solution is to change how we think about stress. Much of the time we are not being stressed out by what is actually happening to us but what we are thinking and assuming about what is happening. We end up creating whole movie montages in our minds about what might happen that have no basis in reality whatsoever.
Imagine we just missed the train… so now we might leap into a veritable action movie in our heads about what will happen because we missed the train… we will be late to a meeting, late picking up our child after school, late to meet a family member… but in this moment none of those things are reality. We may imagine all sorts of things as a result of missing the train but NONE of them are actually happening. In that moment we are simply standing on the platform waiting for the next train.
Now if we get swept up in the OH MY GOD I AM GOING TO BE LATE movie montage in our heads suddenly we are sweating… imagining how our boss will react, how our friend will react… We are imagining all sorts of dire consequences… or maybe we go into a whole self criticism movie montage about how we should be more efficient in the morning, should be more organized… or maybe we go into a blame movie… That person we were stuck behind at the stop light should have been paying attention! The escalator at the station shouldn’t be broken! There should be more trains! And now we have all these stressful movies going in our heads and we are in a total lather….
when what is really going on in that moment is that it is a lovely spring day and we are standing outside in the sun on the platform and we have an extra ten min to breathe and plan our day.
So if we step back from the stressful thought of OH MY GOD I AM GOING TO BE LATE and let go of all the movies in our heads and just breathe then it may occur to us that we can move that meeting… or call another mom to pick up our child. A relaxed mind can come up with all sorts of solutions. In addition if we are not fulminating in a sweaty lather we will arrive at our destination much more calm and open. We will not be projecting our inner apocalypse movie onto others so we can actually be with them where they are at… which might be a heightened eager expectation due to the fact that we were a little delayed. Or who knows maybe they will be upset… but aren’t we in a much better shape to deal with others when we are calm, rather than meeting their tempest in a tea pot with the hurricane in our heads?
One of the great gifts of any mindfulness practice is the ability to step back from our thoughts…. to remember that much of the drama going on in our heads is totally fictional… and bring our minds back to the present moment. The present moment is almost never as bad as we might be thinking.