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Just like there are a myriad of different symptoms of stress, there are likewise a myriad of different ways we as human beings have learned to deal with or “cope” with stress. As I’ve thought about it, I’ve come up with four major categories of stress management strategies. The first three stress management strategies are the most common. The fourth stress management strategy is what I am proposing as the right solution.
To make this a bit easier to understand, let’s use an analogy.
Imagine you live on an island and you have a small sail boat that you use to get between two islands. But the boat has a hole in the bottom and every time you go out on the ocean, you begin to take on water. There are basically three strategies you could employ in this scenario. There is a fourth, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
1- Bailing the Water
2- Plugging the Hole
3- Ignoring the Problem
The Boat represents you- your current ability to move around and deal with the world around you and the element of change.
The Ocean represents your external environment- nature, the way things are, change, the things you can’t control, etc.
The Hole represents stress in your life.
Let’s address each of the three stress management strategies briefly.
Bailing the Water
This is the equivalent of trying to relieve the pressure by trying to PUSH OUT the energy from the system.
Examples in real life of bailing would be anger, yelling, screaming, venting, blaming, sexual activity and violence. On the more innocuous side would be things like exercise and talking with friends.
Plugging the Hole
This is the equivalent of trying to relieve the pressure by trying to KEEP OUT change in the system.
A common example in real life of plugging the hole would be going into depression mode- where our body literally shuts down the inputs into the brain by constricting the pupils so less light gets in, and causing the body to sleep more so less consciousness gets in.
Other examples might be saying “No” to new commitments and shutting down new opportunities because we can’t handle what we’ve already got to process. We all have to learn to say NO to the less important, but often we become indiscriminate in our blocking and go into isolation mode trying to reduce and eliminate sources of input- often positive sources of input, in order to “deal with” or “cope” with the negative that we’ve already let in.
Ignoring the Problem
This is the equivalent of watching for dolphins while your boat fills with water.
Ignoring the problem comes in many varieties- usually we just let our attention get distracted because we’re too fearful of keeping it where it needs to be to fix the problem.
Drugs, alcohol, excessive eating, excessive entertainment or excessive shopping are all examples of Ignoring the Problem. They are all just distractions from the problem of a sinking boat.
A Better Way
All of these three stress “coping” mechanisms provide temporary results and can be either healthy or unhealthy depending upon the use. But none of them really solve the problem.
The problem with all of these mechanisms is that they leave unchanged the system’s capacity for handling change in the environment. They do not GROW the capacity of the system to handle stress and change, they just relieve some of the pressure temporarily and have to be resorted to again and again as the pressure just keeps coming in like the unlimited ocean water.
So what is the lasting solution? What is “True Stress Relief?”
To stick with our row boat analogy- it is to build a bigger, stronger, more water tight boat that is capable of handling more “stress” in the environment without having to resort to bailing, plugging or ignoring the leak.
As we turn our focus inward and take on the challenge of regular internal alignment, what we do is create in ourselves a “system” or “boat” that has increased capacity to handle change and stress.
Now, we don’t go from a small sailboat to a battleship in one single makeover. The process is incremental, but each time we do the internal work prescribed in this site, we strengthen and grow our boat. We increase our system’s threshold of tolerance. We literally become more tolerant of change and stress- able to handle more without breaking down.
But even when our threshold is exceeded, if we allow it to happen instead of resorting to bailing, plugging or ignoring, and instead go back to work on internal alignment, we can take a breakdown in life and use it as a re-creation, a re-building, a re-organizing of a system at a higher level of existence.