Making Friends with Your Stress

A recent TED talk by Kelly McGonigal about stress reminded me of a short article I wrote about fear with a complimentary viewpoint — its not the stress or fear that is the real problem, but our relation to it. When we view it as the enemy, something to get rid of, we set the stage to increase our tension and anxiety until it actually is a problem. But there are ways we can create a healthier relationship to our fear and stress.

As Fearful as You Need to Be: Joy in the Midst of Fear

There’s a popular saying about how to eliminate fear, I’m sure you’ve heard it: “Choose love, not fear.” This is reassuring; it makes people feel that they always have a choice not to be afraid if they can love instead. It is the principle of replacing what’s considered a negative, fear, with a perceived positive, love. But it doesn’t always work, if it works at all. Sometimes we just feel afraid and there’s nothing we can do to eliminate the fear. We can try, perhaps we can do it for a while, but often the fear just pops back up in another way, just like grief or anger. Maneuvering to get rid of it can have unwanted repercussions and often intensifies the anxiety.

So what do you do when your maneuvering fails? Be as fearful as you need to be. Open to it, feel it, don’t try to get rid of it. Stop viewing it as a problem and approach it as a friend. But also be aware of the thoughts and projections that are feeding the fear. You don’t have to nourish those thoughts. What would happen if you just let your fear live inside your body for a while, just as it is? What if you quit viewing fear as the enemy, something to get rid of? Would it overrun you and eat you up? Not if you cultivate a steady mind and an open heart in the presence of the fear. Take a few deep breaths and step in. Through this practice you can reach a still and open dwelling place. You can freedom in the midst of fear, and maybe even joy.

Here’s a link to Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk: The Truth About Stress

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