How stressed out are you? Do you tell people when you feel like stress is wearing you down? Or does that feel like an admittance of failure?
No one wants to admit they can't cope, so instead we are being taught to cope rather than have to complain or make a change.
It's like we've been convinced that stress is a necessary and permanent feature in our lives, something we must accept and learn to manage.
The implication is that if we can endure stress to a high degree, we will be “successful” and valued. In fact, we even make those who suffer ill-health as a result of stress feel as though they have failed – as if they aren't tough enough to cut it in “the real world”.
The reality, however, suppressed by the bravado, is that stress is making us sick. Stress increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke by as much as 50% (The American Institute of Stress).
We are a society on edge: always anticipating the next big move, losing sleep over deals, decisions and financial worries, eating badly, over working, not exercising enough and constantly judging and criticising ourselves and others for not meeting preconceived expectations that gnaw away at our ability to experience happiness.
In a nutshell; we are not enjoying life as much as we should.
To Cope is to Struggle and Suffer
The point I want to make is this: Forget “coping with stress”, or even “managing stress”. To our detriment, these terms have wormed their way into our psyche through corporate literature and business-inspired seminars, deceptively convincing us to accept ill health as a trade off for success on the journey up the career ladder or towards the perfect family life.
In short, it's snake oil.
We shouldn't be coping or managing. Instead, we should be reconnecting with the natural habit of letting go, of removing ourselves from situations we find stressful. This is the innate human way of dealing with stress and its associated emotions: fear, worry, anxiety, aggression, frustration.
Stress is something humans are well-equipped to handle: The body is built to cope with moments of heightened fear and anxiety that cause mental and physical stress. Sensing fear, for example, is a necessary survival mechanism. But it dissipates naturally, once the threat has been removed. If you were to remain in a constant state of fear it would quickly take its toll on your health, for it would not be a natural, healthy state of being.
Consider that aggression is also a natural human emotion. All humans have the capacity to be aggressive and violent – God knows we are reminded of this each day by the wars we see being waged around the world. Aggression is a survival tool we use when in a hostile environment. We identify the fear and, if threatened or attacked, we use aggression to hopefully escape the situation unscathed.
But what sort of society would we live in if we were all in a constant state of fear and aggression? It just wouldn't be healthy. Moreover, this isn't the sort of society any of us would want to live in. It would be very stressful.
So why then are we accepting constant stress as part and parcel of our everyday life experience, knowing full well that science has proven it to be dangerous? And why are some people trying to package stress as a necessary part of success; “You just need to know how to manage it. Try breaking up those 14-hour work days with some meditation”. Yeah, right!
Stress is a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium. A stressful event can trigger the “fight-or-flight” response, causing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to surge through the body.(https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/stress)
A prolonged state state of stress is not a positive thing. This isn't hearsay. It's a medical fact. Note the above quote: It's a reaction. It causes a surge of adrenaline and cortisol through the body. ‘Reaction' and ‘surge' are words that imply temporary not permanent states. We are not supposed to be in a permanent state of stress.
When we immerse ourselves in a stressful environment/situation for too long and allow it to steer our emotions and actions we become anxious, restless and generally unhappy. The result is a tormented mind, exhausted by negative emotions.
Experiencing a period of stress after an argument or a disappointment, or during an exhausting life event, is absolutely normal. We are built to cope with this. But to be habitually consumed by stress on a daily basis, be it from a heavy work load or an emotionally draining personal relationship, is a burden that steals our happiness and health.
I'm not advocating that you should embark on a mission to avoid stress in every area of your life – because this would be equally as unnatural. What I'm saying is that rather than seeking to “better cope with stress” using stress-management techniques, it is better to simply develop the habit of allowing stress to dissipate naturally and not hold onto the negative emotions that ultimately impact your happiness.
To cope with stress is to struggle, to endure it, but to somehow manage, to take a deep breath and “just get on with it”.
Holding onto the annoyances, frustrations and upsets that accompany stress is mentally and physically draining; we all know it is. So why do we put ourselves through it? For money? For success? For the admiration of our peers? To prove we are worthy?
But what about your happiness?
No one gets a medal on their deathbed for having worked the longest hours, slept the least, shouted at the most people, ruined the most personal relationships and collected the most stress-related ailments, and who would want that medal if there was one?
You only get one life, at least in this skin anyway, and the only guaranteed moment you have is this now.
If you're in a situation that's causing you stress every day, get out of it or change what needs to be changed to make it a prosperous, happy one. Instead of trying to cope, let go of those annoyances, upsets and frustrations. Unchain your mind from this mental prison and allow the stress to fall away from your life.
I'll leave you with this thought: Coping with stress is akin to coping with a drug or alcohol addiction or an abusive relationship; there will come a point of collapse. You can't endure it indefinitely.
Heavy is the burden of the summer tree that keeps its leaves in autumn.