Stress—and its many debilitating consequences on health and well-being—has been for many years one of the most pressing problems in modern culture. But because people generally accept that stress is inevitable, even desirable in some cases, they focus on merely managing stress. Unfortunately, most stress-management methods merely exchange one type of stress for another, and although they can buy time and perhaps avoid some immediate issues, they do not provide a long-term solution to the harmful effects of stress.
Solving Stress takes a different approach. Although you will inevitably encounter potential stressors throughout life, and will inevitably react to those stressors, it’s not inevitable that you must react with stress and tension. Instead, Solving Stress teaches you simple and effective tools to retrain the nature of your reaction to one of calmness and relaxation, giving you direct, individual control over your stress. These same tools also induce the physiological counter-effects of stress, activating your body’s self-healing processes.
With Solving Stress, you’ll be able to reduce present stress, reverse harmful effects of past stress, and prevent most future stress. You’ll step out of the cycle of stress, recover your personal well-being, and truly transform your relationship with the demands of an active life.
1. Life in the Cycle
The External Cycle
The Internal Cycle: The Fight-or-Flight Response Is Stress Necessary?
Motivation Is Necessary
Table 1: Physiological Effects of Stress
Insert: The Skyrocketing Cost of Stress
The Cost of Stress to Personal Health
The Cost of Stress to Business and Industry
2. The Search for Solutions
Relief but Not Cure: The Great Stress Exchange Exchanging Buys Time
You Can’t Beat Out the Darkness
3. The Origin of Stress
4. Breaking the Cycle
Responding with Calmness and Relaxation
The Relaxation Response
Training a New Reaction
5. Methods of Practice
Putting It All Together
Martial Arts for the Mind
Insert: The Effectiveness of Meditation
6. Choosing Your Influences
Planting vs. Weeding
Increasing Your Stress Threshold
Changes Come Naturally
Work from Your Center
The “Quality Diet”
Insert: But What If I Have Restless Children? The Inner Environment
Changing the Changes
7. Living on Purpose
Discovering Your Underlying Priorities
Living on Purpose
Money, Stuff, and a New Cycle Acknowledgments
About the Author
Have you ever been in situations at work, at home, or in social settings when all sorts of stresses and strains found, shall we say, their full expres-sion? Of course you have. That’s why you’re reading this book.
Thinking back, you can probably remember how very upset people were at the time: how tempers flared and emotions ran high. Not pleasant at all. Yet perhaps you can also remember others who, standing in the midst of the same crashing chaos, retained their composure—others who shared exactly the same experience as you and yet remained calm, relaxed, and in complete control of themselves. They were the ones who were able to focus their energies on the needs at hand. They were the ones who re-mained mindful of the realities of everyone involved. And they were the ones who could maximize the impact and effectiveness of their actions to the benefit of all.
Would you like to be one of those people?
Would you like to know their secret?
If so, keep reading.
There’s one certainty about stress that we can probably all agree on; no matter how it affects us—in our work, in our relationships, and in our personal health—we could all do with less of it! Although a little stress might be a necessary motivator (a subject I’ll explore), the stress levels that many people encounter on a regular basis are nothing short of destructive and greatly limit one’s impact. I imagine, then, that you, your family, your friends, your co-workers, and your employees would like to find an effective means to reduce stress and thus experience happier and healthier lives, if not also to avoid the ever-increasing costs of stress. This book offers such a means.
You’ve probably noticed that this book isn’t a big collection of a thousand and one loosely categorized “stress busters.” Neither does it offer specific advice for managing stress in a variety of specific situations. In fact, this book isn’t about merely managing stress at all. Rather, it offers simple and effective tools that thousands of people have used to reduce present stress, reverse the harmful effects of past stress, and prevent most future stress. With these tools, you’ll be able to step out of the cycle of stress and stay out. You’ll recover your personal well-being and truly transform your relationship with the demands of an active, purposeful, and meaningful life.
For challenges and demands there will be. The very fact that you are reading this book—and not a brochure for oceanfront property in some small Central American country—suggests that you’re looking for a solution to stress that’s dynamic rather than passive (not to mention consider-ably less expensive!). You’re not looking to withdraw from life because you realize, on some level, that the lack of purposeful and meaningful activity—which is to say, a lack of engaged intensity—is itself a stressor. You just want to experience an intensity of joy rather than strain.
As we’ll see, the means to achieving this goal isn’t about removing potential stressors from your life as if they were merely weeds in a garden. Neither is the solution one of removing yourself from present circumstances, nor is it a matter of “taking control” and attempting to manage (or bully) the world and the people around you. Although you may be able, as I’ll discuss in Chapter 6, to avoid a few stressors, control a few circumstances, and maybe—just maybe—exercise a little influence on others around you, the real secret is learning how to control and dynamically adapt yourself to the world’s ever-changing realities.
Does this mean turning yourself into some sort of spineless, submissive milksop, tossed about like a leaf by the cruel winds of fate? Does this mean surrendering your power to make any kind of difference in the world? Does it mean sacrificing your most cherished passions? Rest easy, friend—that’s not what I’ll ask of you. I will not ask you to give up your sense of self or your convictions. In fact, the method given in this book will actually help you become more deeply centered in yourself, more in touch with your own inner strength, more able to act productively on those convictions, and thus more able to have impact.
Consider the difference between water and stone. Water’s fluidity allows it to easily and naturally adapt to any container without losing its essence as water. To do the same with stone requires more drastic measures: it has to be chipped, broken, and pulverized into sand! Being fluid is thus the quality that helps you adapt with the least amount of, shall we say, pain. Indeed, water is ultimately more powerful than stone. You can see evidence of this on any shoreline.
Self-control and dynamic adaptation. Those are the secrets.
How, then, do you develop these qualities in yourself? By gaining control over your oft-habitual reactions to potential stressors. That’s what you’ll learn in this book. And you’ll learn it not by suppressing your reactions but by retraining yourself to habitually react in a new way: where you presently react with tension, you’ll learn to react with calmness and relaxation. That is, I won’t be asking you to change whether you react to situations because, no matter how hard you try, it’s best to assume that something will inevitably find a way to catch you off guard. Instead, you’ll learn to change the nature of your reaction from any number of things that result in stress to those that don’t: calmness and relaxation.
Then you’ll discover the magic. By changing the nature of your reaction, you give yourself a moment’s pause in which to breathe, reflect on the situation, and consciously choose an appropriate and beneficial response, even if all it means is letting go. In this there is real power.
Too simple, you say? Perhaps. If you started from a blank slate, such retraining would be a straightforward matter. The difficulty is that you are likely suffering from stress already—deep in debt, so to speak. Fortunately, and not coincidentally, the same exercises that you’ll use to retrain your reactions also bring immediate relief from existing stress.
Thus, if you change only one thing in your life to deal with stress, make it this: resolve, here and now, to practice the exercises in this book every day for the next four weeks. They take about 20 minutes to do, which means investing less than ten of the next 672 hours of your life. But you must make the investment every day: consistent, daily practice during this period is essential to establish a new habit.
In the first two weeks, you’ll develop the habit of doing the exercises. In the second two weeks, you’ll develop a new habitual self-awareness and self-control that transforms how you respond to potential stressors. By then you’ll begin to experience direct results that make continued practice an indispensable part of your daily routine—as natural and desirable as brushing your teeth and putting on clean clothes. It is that effective.
And it gets better. The added power of this method lies in inoculating you from becoming stressed in the first place. It doesn’t mean that you’ll become a master overnight; don’t expect to handle your biggest stressors right away. But week by week your skills will increase. You’ll discover that you become stressed less often, and even when you do, you’ll experience a lower level of stress and will recover much more rapidly. In time, you’ll discover the capacity to remain calmly active and actively calm amid even total chaos. You’ll have become one of those exceptional persons mentioned at the beginning of this chapter.
The method offered in this book is effective—and cost-effective—for several reasons. First, it gives you direct, individual control over your stress: there’s no need to wait for organizational, societal, medicinal, or technological changes to lessen the burden or solve your problems for you. Second, the exercises given here induce the physiological counter-response to stress that activates the body’s self-healing functions, gradually improving your health over time. Third, these exercises are enjoyable, are easy to learn, cost nothing but a little time to practice, and require no special facilities, equipment, therapists, supplements, and so on. Finally, this method deals directly with the source of stress—the nature of your reactions. This empowers you to catch stress before it happens rather than deal with the effects of stress that manifest well after the fact.
All this sets the method in this book apart from many other commonly proposed stress-management techniques. As I’ll explore, those tools are helpful for certain purposes. Their fundamental problem, however, is that they generally attempt to fight one kind of stress with a different kind of stress—forms change, but the stress remains. They also depend a great deal on your ability to think clearly enough in the heat of battle to remember special coping strategies. Unfortunately, clear thinking is one of the first things to vanish when you’re under pressure!
The solution offered here also differs in that it concentrates on drawing into your life more of those specific things you’d like to experience rather than merely rejecting the thousands of things you’d rather do without. In-stead of dealing one by one with the diverse ways that stress can manifest itself—as futile an effort as playing Whack-a-Mole in an arcade—you’ll focus on the opposites of stress: namely, relaxation, calmness, and self-control. To become calmer and more peaceful, in other words, concentrate on peace and calmness rather than every little instance of conflict and agitation. To become more in control of your life, concentrate on the only thing you truly can control: your own self.
Indeed, with that self-control you also discover an added bonus: the power to more consciously direct your life according to what is truly important and meaningful to you. Instead of relying on the experience of others to determine your lifestyle, you develop a universal means for creatively dealing with the ever-changing demands of your reality. With the yardstick of your priorities, you can measure every demand for its contribution to your overall happiness and fulfillment. Thus many so-called demands and challenges simply evaporate, and others that even seem at odds come together harmoniously. In the end, you’re left with only those that clearly help you experience what you’re ultimately seeking: less stress and more joy.
“Long-lasting solutions that address the underlying causes of stress, and not merely the symptoms.”
Gyandev McCord, author of Spiritual Yoga: Awakening to Higher Awareness
“Simple yet powerful techniques that change your experience of daily life. Even a few of these practical steps will brings transformative results.”
New Renaissance Bookshop, Portland, Oregon