Overworked and tired people leading busy lives tend to be weighed down by stress. It’s not unusual for someone in that position to be exhausted, anxiety-ridden, and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Or, they keep the burden bottled up and become ill from the inside out. Letting stress get to our mind is like inflammation in a joint, causing pain from an unknown source leaving us hurting and disabled. Can we control stress or mitigate it? Better yet, can we redefine our current understanding of stress to reconstruct a new meaning and live without the pain that so many are afflicted by every day of their lives?
The World of Stress
The physical stress on an architectural structure is real. A bridge, for example, will maintain strength up to a point, but can only take so much weight before it crumbles under the load. Skyscrapers are designed to withstand high winds, storms, and earthquakes, and actually have a sway tolerance allowing the building to move from side to side. A building, however, will give if it is pushed beyond its maximum capacity. We know that such structures in the physical world eventually reach a point where enough is enough.
Our bodies obey the same law. Our minds, on the other hand, are different and contain no limit whatsoever.
When my clients—and people in general—think of stress, they tend to think of multiple things going on at once that are ultimately too much to handle. The expectation, then, is to complete every task as they enter our life. In fact, the more tasks we can complete the more satisfied people feel. Once we reach our limit—once the number of tasks rises above and beyond the expectation to finish them—we max out and crumble under the load.
Other forms of perceived stressors include:
- too many people or voices coming at us;
- too many factors of a project making it too complex;
- anything else seemingly excessive in our lives
Each of these holds the same expectation of comprehension, high standard of performance, and completion. How can we possibly do all these things, talk to all these people, understand every factor of complex projects, and still perform and finish with the same skill level? The pressure builds from inside, emotions such as anxiety, fear, and insecurity build, and all of a sudden our body is inflamed, our stress hormone Cortisol rushes in, and our new state of consciousness is worry—we’re stressed.
Is it real? Of course, the response to multiple complex factors of our existence and daily situational awareness is real, and we indeed create the rise of cortisol in our body—but we can change our response and change the way our mind sees the many tasks, people or situational factors we must face in our dynamic lives. With enough practice of discrimination and detachment, we can control the way we respond to events outside of us, redefine what they are, and move forward accordingly. Stress is self-created and only as real as we allow it to be.
Allowing yourself to practice discrimination—the recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another—is liberating. The practice means to decide what you give your energy to, and if a reaction is needed. For example, if a building is on fire then, by all means, please rush to get a fire extinguisher and help put out the fire. But, if someone decides to tell you how much they dislike you, and explain the many reasons why most wouldn’t like you at all, there’s a moment to which you are allowed to take before responding—or not responding.
If you are given the responsibility to run a high-level project with multiple subordinates, or even with the added layer of having it be a military operation in combat, you can still choose how to respond to successes and failures, praise and blame. You always have a choice—remain calm, or use emotion to back your response. After enough experience, you begin to realize that one of those choices gives you no advantage while the other will allow for intelligence, cooperation, and solutions.
Nothing outside yourself will ever tell you how to respond. Situations, people and projects will only present themselves to you, giving you the option of whether to respond or not, and the choice in how to react.
So how do we react? How do we choose our response?
Eventually, the stressed individual reaches a point of clarity where they realize they don’t actually have to judge themselves as hard as they do. Detachment means to let go of the results knowing that you have tried, researched, studied, cooperated and maintained enough stability to follow through as best you could. Once detached, stress cannot infiltrate your mind’s operating system. Reactions with enough detachment result in mindfulness.
Praise or blame can be assigned to you; complex operations may present themselves, or various people will need your attention and energy simultaneously—the well-practiced detached person can decide how to respond—either with calm or emotion—using the powers of discrimination and detachment. The idea is to realize that nothing outside yourself says its stressful, nothing tells you how to respond—it’s you who makes the response, chooses the severity of emotion, and it’s you that either loses composure or keeps your cool.
The Middle Path: Dispassion
Here we are, not sure how to react to any given situation anymore. Do we use emotion and empathize with others? Or are we now cold, detached, and unable to give our energy to anyone or anything else? To live life with balance we use affectionate detachment, also known in yoga as dispassion.
To not overly attach ourselves to something or someone, but to care enough to remain human, loving, and affectionate is the art of dispassion. Knowing how much energy to give—and to what project, person or thing—and how to respond appropriately all come with experience. With enough time and experience we will gain knowledge, and using that knowledge in the appropriate time is wisdom.
More confused than when we started? Don’t fret, you’ll know what to do in time by invoking your power of discrimination:
- choosing what to give energy to and how much;
- practicing detachment in the moment—pause to reflect before responding;
- arriving at dispassion—affectionately going about your business, caring for others but making sure to always reflect on how things are influencing you, and if you’re ok with that or not.
Once the work begins, you will be able to see that everything going on outside yourself—all of the chaos and rush from people, projects and expectations—is all determined by how you choose to respond. Choose wisely and the world becomes your arena for self-development, self-expression, and success.
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