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S-T-R-E-S-SSSSSS

Rachel Estapa

Dealing with worry, doubt and stress is exhausting! And oftentimes when it comes to the breaking point, we're no longer worrying about the initial object, but are worried that we're worrying so much. Why can't I stop thinking? It's the brain on spin-cycle and it just keeps going faster and faster. Stress essentially is the body's way of positioning to take on a challenge. There is good stress (being excited or knowing you need to prepare for something) and bad stress (working yourself into a frenzy; being incapable of action) -- but the main determinate is how we see it and if we're able to manage it. If the challenge is equal to the level of skill you believe you have, chances are you're not stressed. If the challenge is high, and you feel that your skills are not up to it; you're probably likely to feel stressed. [To side step a second, in positive psychology speak, this  topic feeds into the concept of "flow," or the total mental and physical immersion of a person acutely focused on a task at hand. It's marked  by a lack of awareness of time, emotions, and even the sense of  self goes. Here's a cool chart that breaks it down a bit: challenge vs skills.]

Unless you are legitimately suffering from anxiety-related disorders, a majority of what people worry about can be managed and worked through. Objects don't cause stress; perception of those objects cause stress. Think about a situation in your life where you felt stressed -- did you ask yourself what about the situation was creating the problem? Did you notice a pattern thought, or image that instigated the pangs of worry? Stress is related to one's perception of ability -- it's seeing yourself outside of the current parameters of your comfort zone. Stress in my case is usually about anticipating a future change-- I attach meaning to nearly everything in my life and when the meanings (or my comfort zone with them) start to change I get anxious. How am I going to manage that? What will I do? In reality, I'm very adaptable to new situations; but it's the anticipated build up to that change which creates the stress. Like a manual car, shifting gears is bumpy. It's something I continuously and consciously work on because  fearing change is a limiting factor. And we all know the old adage "The only constant is change."

The remedy? Respect, be aware, try to understand and talk about WHY you're feeling this way -- and push through anyway. Generally, people are extremely averse  to showing vulnerability.  Being open about this type of universally felt emotion isn't really practiced; rather, it's bottled up, swept away or dealt with the phrase: It's not really that big an issue; I'm OK. Trust me: ignoring it will only make it more toxic, and it'll bubble up in ways that will confuse and frustrate you AND the people who have to deal with you. Being brave doesn't mean you're fearless -- it means you progress onward, despite the fear. Another incredible source of calm and rejuvenation for me is telling myself "it's OK to feel this way right now." Giving something a name and recognizing it has a tremendous influence on overcoming it. For a more scientific exploration of stress and its impact on the quality of our lives, check out this National Geographic piece that aired on PBS called "Killer Stress." Stress does more than just impair our ability to think; it impairs a body's ability to be healthy.

This is a poem by my favorite, Rumi, that has helped put stress into a beneficial and transformative light:

A Song of Being Empty

A certain sufi tore his robe in grief, and the tearing brought such relief,

he gave the robe the name faraji,which means "ripped open", or "happiness," or "one who brings the joy of being opened."

It comes from the stem faraj, which also refers to the genitals, male and female.

His teacher understood the purity of the action, while others just saw the ragged appearance.

If you want peace and purity, tear away your coverings.

This is the purpose of emotion, to let a streaming beauty flow through you.

Call it spirit, elixir, or the original agreement between yourself and God.

Opening into that gives peace, a song of being empty, pure silence.

So, the next time you find yourself feeling pangs of anxiety, worry or doubt -- follow the steps: 1. allow yourself to feel it; 2. forgive yourself for feeling it; 3. thank yourself for being aware of it; 4. take responsibility for ways to manage it. We'll NEVER be rid of stress - we need it. We can learn techniques to manage it and use it to help us out -- the quality of our lives depend upon it.

Take care, ~Rachel