On stress

06 January 2017

A short time ago, my therapist suggested we try something new. This doesn’t happen often, because I’ve rarely reacted well to it. Early in our partnership (now into its third year), she attempted new suggestions more frequently, especially in regards to her speciality of art therapy—which, ostensibly, I had been interested in trying before we began working together. But, once in that physical and mental space where I was to do work on myself, I stubbornly insisted on holding to my analytic side and kept my therapy firmly rooted in words, where I was already comfortable.

Over time, however, I have softened and become more flexible, and so recently I was willing to try a guided meditation session. I recognized that I had hit a ceiling of development, and that the old tools were not going to move me beyond it. It was time to level up, which meant exploring the unknown, beyond comfortable words and thoughts. I’d been working towards it for a while. About a year ago, I wrote about my new journey with yoga and how I feared I was too sarcastic to ever really be good at it. Sarcasm, of course, is just armor, sometimes needed but sometimes not. At some point, I’d managed to get over the need for instant protection. I learned how to sit quietly with myself. I learned how to master myself, at least to a certain point. And I learned that there was a great, formless mass of unprocessed emotions and unchecked habits, steadily built up over many years, to finally reckon with. When faced with that, you either fall back on what you’ve always done, and remain stuck in place, or you move forward. I was, gingerly, doubtfully, curiously moving forward.

Meditation taught me something else new, which was that I don’t have to be stressed out all the time, that there is actually another way to live. How extraordinary. It was another understanding long in the making, but it blossomed when I finally gave it enough time and concentration to. As any other person whose interaction with the world has been largely defined by anxiety and stress will know, it’s quite a revelation that this is not a necessary state of being and that it’s not even entirely dictated by external circumstance. Circumstance plays its part, to be sure. But even when you’ve carefully arranged your life to suit you, you will still operate with the same survival instinct, the same level of stress, that you did when you were in different circumstances, until you figure out how to switch it off. You also become aware that you’ll never reach the point where absolutely every external circumstance will suit you, because that’s simply not how life in the world works. So then, basically, it becomes necessary for you to learn how to calm the hell down.

It requires some rewiring. It requires time and careful movement. I now practice yoga every day. I follow my app-guided meditations. I go to therapy every week. I write down my thoughts every morning. I’ve slowly added more and more methods to slow myself down and pay attention to the moment I’m in, to not worry about what I have to do next or what I didn’t do in the past. It’s all so hopelessly cliched my first impulse is to dismiss it myself, maybe with a sarcastic barb. But the truth of the matter is that I have calmed down. I don’t stress out as much anymore. I feel more in control while in deliberate repose than I did in reflexive action, a paradox I hadn’t perceived before. It turns out it’s all just better.

And perhaps it’s better to save sarcasm, and stress, for the circumstances where they are truly required.


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