Everyone likes joy and not stress. But yet joy seems elusive and stress seems inevitable. There are many opportunities to experience stress. From work to home, we can experience stress from an uncooperative co-worker, an insecure boss, stubborn parents to loans to pay. Most of us distract ourselves from stress by exercising, listening to music, going for a massage, or watching a movie. But when we see the same problems we face, stress bubbles up again. Stress can cause long-term health problems if we do not know how to manage it. To manage stress, we need to know the origin of stress. However, the origin of stress is not what you think it is.
How is stress activated?
Stress is a reaction we have to the situations we dislike or hate. The level of our stress depends on how much we dislike or want to avoid an event. Stress also exist in pleasant feelings such as excitement and exuberance. When we experience stress, our sympathetic nervous system is activated. This system produces what is the fight, flight, or freeze response. The response is our animal instinct to protect ourselves. When this set of the nervous system is activated, our heartbeat increases, our breathing quickens, blood pressure rises, our lungs expand and our muscles tighten to prepare to make a run or to fight the danger. Our bodies are equipped to handle small doses of stress. But it is unable to handle long-term chronic stress.
The effects of stress
We experience emotional and physical effects of stress. Stress can cause us to feel moody and frustrated. We experience difficulty in quieting our minds. It can also cause us to feel lonely, worthless, and depressed. It can also cause us to become withdrawn.
Chronic stress can cause us to have headaches, suffer digestive problems such as constipation or diarrhea. It can even cause tightness in the chest and make the heart race.
The origin of stress
Stress comes in many forms. You may think that your life is generally stressed free. It could be true for most of us who feel neutral most of the time. Stress can come in subtle forms you may not notice. Such as the feeling of restlessness and discontentment. The feeling of boredom and not having a purpose in your life. All of these can cause feelings of stress to arise.
We all think that stress comes from another person who does not give us what we want. A boss may not give us a promotion, a co-worker may be sending us nasty emails. Or our partner is separating from us. No doubt these can cause stress. But instead of looking outside, we have to look within ourselves. For example, if we have no anger within, can anyone actually cause us any anger?
If we look deeper, we may see that the origin of stress is forgetfulness and wrong perception.
How is forgetfulness an origin of stress?
When we are focused on a task, such as remembering to send an email to a client, to working on a proposal, is a form of being here and now. That’s because our minds are with the tasks we are doing. However, our minds are not always focused on a task. We can be distracted even when we are writing a proposal. We could be surfing the internet in between work. Even when we are listening to a friend, we are not always fully attentive.
The other times we are ‘focused’ is when we are constantly thinking about the pleasant things that have happened to us. Or else, we are obsessed with getting rid of the unpleasant feeling or situation by thinking of how to get back to a pleasant feeling.
In between the constant wanting of pleasant feelings, and being with our tasks, our minds are wandering when it is doing daily routines. As daily routines are boring and automatic, we hardly pay any attention and do them in a zombie-like state. Routines such as eating, walking, and brushing the teeth. In this zombie-like state, the mind becomes discontented. In its discontentment, the mind constantly thinks of things that can bring pleasantness – such as achieving something from having a partner to having a successful project in our lives.
It isn’t wrong to want to work towards something. We all have a purpose, but we must learn to be wise about it by knowing how stress comes about.
Wrong perception is the origin of stress
Our wrong perception is the origin of stress. This is perhaps the hardest to explain. We perceive ourselves to be alone and we seek connection. Or we think others are harming us. We perceive uncertainty to be fearful. We perceive death to be the end of everything. All these perceptions are what cause stress from a subtle to a gross level.
The truth is, we are always surrounded by people. We want more than what we can get from others. And they too, want the same thing. In this way, we are losing the opportunities to connect with people because we always want what others cannot give us – a permanent sense of love and security. We try to find this too in our jobs and in wealth. When we cannot get what we want from others, we can perceive that they are harming us.
The reality too is that we are always surrounded by uncertainty. From the day we are born, we live in uncertainty. Our birth itself is not something we can control, but we grow up trying to control things to feel a sense of certainty. What we are sharing here is a generalization of our life situation. It is not a wrong perception if you are indeed suffering from physical or constant verbal abuse and should seek help.
Solving the problem of stress
Though it is difficult to be completely free from stress, we can constantly reduce stress to a minuscule amount. We can do this by managing the origin of stress. A forgetful mind can be managed with meditation. Meditation is the deliberate act of remembering one object, such as the body. The most common form of training one’s recollection is to remember the breath, which is a part of the body.
The body is after all always in the present moment. The mind is the one that is moving from the past to the future while being distracted and discontented in between.
Changing our perception would be harder than training the mind to remember instead of forgetting. Everyone thinks, and thinking itself is a form of dreaming. We think of the past and dread it. Or we fear the future. We may also get pleasant feelings thinking of a happy past and look forward to a future we dream about. But all these are dreams – because they are not happening now.
Do not believe everything that you perceive, especially when it can drag your mind into forgetfulness.
Changing our perception requires an effort into contemplating what is real now and what is not. No matter how boring we think the present moment is, it is the true resting place for our minds. We assume the present moment to be nothing, but it is not true. There is a lot of joy in the present – joy is in reality. If you have mindfulness as your practice, you will know. Get in touch with us to learn about mindfulness.