21 April 2010, by A. Cedilla
Continuing from part 1:
No matter where it comes from, stress generally can come from the feeling that you’re being controlled ( when you suffer the lack of personal choice, or feel that you’re a puppet), or feeling out of control (as in having run out, being pushed past your limits; having no power to change the situation, or that you don’t having a handle on things — and reacting by flying off the handle).
However you perceive it, you feel at the mercy of things outside you, and the way you handle things internally decides how stressful the situation is.
Notice what happened there? Outside events influence your internal state. To manage your stressors and your stress, you need to be able to change that kind of viewpoint around, and take the focus from outside influence to inner decisions. This is a shift in locus and focus.
Internal locus is, in this sense, being centered.
What’s outside you is quite literally outside your control, but not always out of your influence, so it’s up to you to decide how things can go, using what influence you do possess, and then not get too attached to the results.
Attachment is also a source of stress — the emotional over-investment can drag you under if the results aren’t exactly what you wanted or expected.
When and how do you feel in control of your life, of your decisions?
How does it feel? Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book, Flow: The Psychology Of Optimal Experience, describes it aptly. Flow. Unforced, channeled action. It’s the state we aspire to when we talk about “being in the groove.”
How do you take and maintain control? If things are so bad you can’t think straight, here’s a few steps to help you out:
- Assess the situation – What can you do about it? If you can change things, jump in.
- Know the desired outcome – clarify your intentions and define what you want, and how you want the situation to change.
- Make your goals but leave some room for improvisation – Don’t be too rigid about the ways and means you can use to reach your goal. Remember, the map is not the territory. As long as you get there in the end, don’t obsess over the ‘proper’ way of doing things.
- Take action – In small consistent steps or a daring big stride, commit to doing what you need to do to change things and take back your control. Take results-oriented steps. Chop the big problem into chunks, bite-sized ones so you can keep at it without adding too much to your workload.
By doing so you strengthen your capacity to take action and build your self-confidence. One result is that what’s inside makes you feel powerful on the outside. Usually it’s the other way around: with an external locus and internal focus, what’s happening outside makes you feel bad on the inside. And thus stressed out.
Be aware of your stressors: What (situation) or who pushes your buttons ? Get rid of the ones you can, or ease them out of the center of your attention. If you can’t, drum up some strategies to support you in dealing with them, or develop compensatory measures – maybe lessen the exposure to a particular, or pay someone else to handle it.
Take preventive measures. Build up your health by exercising and eating real food. Many times taking the lead in one are of you life can compensate for the lack of control and stress in another.
Focus on your old thinking patterns. Maybe it’s not all them. Maybe it’s you, too. After all, you know your side of the story. Why not see it from the other side? You might be surprised at how a new perspective can make the situation less of a problem.
- Plan for change and deal with it ASAP, don’t let things fester unnoticed.
- Commit to regular assessments and self-checks: Where are you now? How are you feeling?
- Educate yourself. Knowledge is power.
Work on dealing with stress step by step, one day at a time, one thing at a time. Don’t project or catastrophize one bad event (or even a series of them) into your entire future. You can’t iron out familiar beliefs and a lifetime’s worth of old habits overnight, or even in a month. Or a year. It’s an organic process.
Sometimes it’s a jarring change, or a slow unfolding, but it can’t be forced. You grow into it. So don’t give up, and celebrate your small victories. You’ll make it.
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