I’ve always been fascinated with how people respond to both life’s unexpected events, and the daily stress that life always hands us. Then, when I married and became a parent, I realized something. As long as the day was okay for me, as in, things were calm and cool, I was happy. When things got more challenging, when my innocent baby turned to toddler (read: Tasmanian devil), things were, well — different. I didn’t really like what I saw in myself. I didn’t like the inconsistency to my emotions and behaviors. I noticed these things in others, too. Some people seemed to manage better than others, and some seemed to have an inner calm that almost seemed to prosper in adversity. That was really irritating to see!
Part of what really brought all of these observations into the forefront was living on a military base in my very early twenties. There were no family or familiar faces around, only crowded housing on base. It was like a fishbowl. There were sixteen families in one building, next to sixteen families in the building next to me, and right across the street. I had case studies all around me, including myself. I noticed certain personality types and how they reacted to challenges. Drinking, fighting, yelling, avoidance, people-pleasing, anger, passivity — these were all around me. I needed to find a better way, because I was struggling myself.
I enrolled in an online program to learn about how to handle adversity and stress in healthy ways. Most importantly for my life, though, I sought God. I quieted myself to hear the holiness amongst the muck, even the muck within my own heart. Despite all the failings to be who I wanted to be, the realization that life will never meet my expectations and the will to accept both of things, growth started. It was a little growth, but growth nonetheless. It was a, ‘two steps forward, one step back’ kind of thing.
Your story, although probably appearing vastly different from mine, will nonetheless have the same struggles. People will never be who you want them to be. You can never attain circumstances or things to happiness. Ever. There will always be more. Struggles will always find you. Finding peace from this world does not exist. The paradigm has to shift.
I am going to attempt to present the readable insights to you in a simple way, and keep my own story to a minimum. Allow your own story to meet each of these ideas.
Meet the Challenge ‘” Don’t Fight the Challenge
A big part of what causes stress in our lives, is stress over things we cannot change. This statement could be applied to an irritating co-worker, to waiting in line, to dealing with our kids and spouses. You can’t change people and events all the time. When you can’t change something, accept it in a way that leaves room to recognize if it can be approached differently later, but don’t worry about it. Sometimes the challenge is so overwhelming that we don’t step back and look at the ability that can be brought to it. That ability might come from ourselves, from support of family or friends, and ability we gain when we have prayer mixed with faith.
Part of our physical reaction to stress gets us ready to literally fight the stress. It’s how physical altercations begin. It’s why a normally benign behaving person might kick a wall when feeling stressed, or drive too fast when angry — the hormones that would have readied you to fight or flee from the boar in the wild are now creating changes on your heart and nervous system. It’s your body’s perfectly valid response to what is being perceived as a stressor, it’s just not the right situation. You can actually calm the whole thing down, however, by something as simple as slowing your breath. Amazingly, slowing your breath and letting deep, slow breathing replace the shallow, rapid breathing, will send a message everywhere else that things are okay. Your heart will get a nice large dose of oxygen while your muscles in your back, shoulders, and chest, naturally relax as you take in a deep breath. Try it. Nice and slow in through your nose — nice and slow out through your mouth. Doesn’t that already feel better? Now, if only you could remember that when you feel like your insides are screaming for battle.
Put Stress into Context
It’s amazing how different stress can look when you put it into context. For many, not having time to do everything we need to do in a day is a big stress. However, put whatever stress you are facing into the context of your life as a whole. Will this matter in a week…a year? Am I becoming irritated and grouchy to those I love simply because I cannot get things done? Do we want our family trips to always have the memories of the grumpy ride there, or of a family that could take things as they come? School might be stressful, but you will finish someday, and have a degree to show for it. You’ll barely remember your sweat and tears when you’ve accomplished your goal. Considering stress within the context of your life as a whole helps us put things into perspective. Perspective and context help us to make better decisions and have an all-around better attitude as we truck along at life. Spending time in nature helps me to do this. Something about getting out of my house and breathing fresh air can go a long way in clearing my head and allowing me to see things in better context.
Think for a moment about who you have mutually supportive relationships with. It feels like this is becoming a rare phenomenon lately. We tend to sequester ourselves inside of ourselves and not let the world see that we are struggling. A good challenge is to find a group of people who can be supportive. A non-judgmental group of people who don’t just enable the next complain fest. Those who like to think and reason through life, find a group of people like that. Find even one person like that, whether a family member or a friend, and you will have a source of comfort. Volunteers tend to be the type of people mentioned above and it would be a great thing to consider doing yourself. Finding just a small amount of time helping or fellowshipping with others will build relationships that are strong and healthy. We weren’t meant to go through life dealing with things on our own.
In conclusion, dealing with the particular aspects of a stressor can be complicated. However, your approach should be one of keeping yourself in a reasonably positive state of mind in order to plan, process, and figure out the best solutions in your life. Having the aforementioned things as foundations and common practices in your life will help keep you positive and make a stressful event or life situation that much easier to go through.
Despite feeling at the time that the military base was something I couldn’t wait to move away from, I was able to gain lots of experience at life and relationships, and began to learn better habits. There will be many situations where you may feel you failed, but that is part of the learning process. Stress and adversity can bring out the best and worst in all of us.