on Dealing with Stress

Dear Frater BT,

How do you deal with stress?

Sometimes, after some good ritual work and meditation, I feel at peace. But sooner or later, and usually sooner, my mind seems to get the better of me, and I am swept up in other peoples issues, and I have other people arguing in my mind and in my memory.

Stress that often isn’t even really there starts to encroach upon me in my stomach and gut, and before I even get to the point of having something to deal with in my day, I am already irritable and resentful that I’m being put through all this.

Then, I remember that I am very lucky that my life isn’t as difficult as it is for many others in the world, and such, and I feel like there’s something out of whack. And those are the good days. When a lot of things start happening at once, it gets so bad I could scream, and I sometimes break down at work, and can’t hide my tears or my frustration.

Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.

Frater BT

Greetings, Frater!

How do you deal with stress?

Basically Yoga, deep breathing, and making a point to put my energy where it is beneficial. There are also some good visualizations and techniques that can be done astrally, when I’m not in a place where I can get to a temple space or handicap restroom stall to do the work physically.

Sometimes, after some good ritual work and meditation, I feel at peace. But sooner or later, and usually sooner, my mind seems to get the better of me, and I am swept up in other peoples issues, and I have other people arguing in my mind and in my memory... sometimes break down at work, and can’t hide my tears or my frustration.

It sounds pretty serious. I’d say a three pronged approach would be appropriate…. Though at the moment I’m thinking of two things… but it’s always good to have a three pronged approach :)

First of all, there is a piece of wisdom from Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" in which he asks the reader to draw a diagram… for brevity’s sake, I’ll draw it for you:

As you can see, there are two columns and two rows. The first row is the place to mentally, or on paper, write in things in our lives that are important, and the second row is for those things that are not important. But within each of these two categories there are two columns: urgent and not urgent. And, so, we have Four Quadrants.

Now, this applies to everything: Job, Home, Relationships, Friendships, and anything beyond, as far as what we do with our time and energy.

Now if you're anything like most people, and based on your question, I'd say you spend more time than you'd like to dealing with Quadrant One. This is the quadrant of the urgent and important. For example: The engine just blew up, so something has to be done about it, because we're on the freeway. This is stressful, and it is Urgent and Important.

Less stressful, though, is this same problem two weeks earlier, when you noticed it had been more than a few months since your last oil change. That was when the problem was still residing in Quadrant Two: Important, but not Urgent.

Meanwhile, you may have people shouting at you to hurry up and get to where everybody is having a beer, or playing video games, things which can most often fall into Quadrant Three: Urgent.... but Not Important.

Then cut to the image of a man sitting staring at the TV, or doodling on a napkin - probably Quadrant Four: Not Urgent, Not Important.

Now there are exceptions to these examples of course, the quadrants are for you to decide for yourself. Hurrying up and going to the movies may be Quadrant Two in disguise, if it's been a long time since you've seen the people you're meeting there, and you want to do something fun before you really start losing touch. Or, doodling on a napkin if you're an artist or an architect, or if it's therapeutic, could be very constructive - and starring at a TV all day could be productive if, say, you work for Nielsen.

But basically, there's that. And the key point here is that the more time and energy you invest in Quadrant Two, the less you will have to invest in Quadrant One later.

Quadrant Two: take your wife out to dinner, because it's been a while, rather than wait till it's a Quadrant One issue, and your wife is leaving you because you never seem to care or spend any time together.

Quadrant Two: check on the tires and the fluids in your car every now and then, rather than wait till it's a Quadrant One issue, and there's some high stress emergency on the road.

Those Quadrant Two issues that are neglected for too long will become Quadrant One issues. If you take care of them before this happens, you'll greatly reduce the amount of stress in your life. This first "prong" of advice has to do with the actual things in your life themselves, and how big and ferocious they are, or can be.

The Second part has more to do with your own relationship with the things in your life - how you approach it, process it, and what have you. I know that, for me, sometimes I will be stressed about something that seems very trivial, once a bigger problem comes along. So, the Four Quadrants will help sort through some of it, but that may be only half, or less than half, of the issue - especially based on your description.

So, first of all: Cut down on the caffeine. Drink more water. Get enough sleep. Exercise a bit. Those are the main things.

Also, there is another applicable diagram from Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People":

There you are in the center of your Circle of Influence. Those things which you can help, do, or influence are there with you, and the most effective way to influence things for the better is to start with yourself, how you are, how you talk to people, the example you show.

Now, your Circle of Influence is part of, and inside of, another circle: the Circle of Concern. This circle contains everything in the world that you might be concerned or worried about, but over which you have no real influence. This can include things going on on the other side of the world - and it can even include the things that are close by. If you're concerned that your son wants to be an artist instead of a doctor, there comes a point where you have to admit that you've done everything you could to assert your position on the matter, but ultimately it is his life and, while you may be concerned, you are no longer able to influence.

Someone else in your life may be insisting upon a particular course of action which you can see, as plain as day, will lead to great sorrow for many. You can advise, you can illustrate, you can plead, you can make your position as clear as day on the matter. But, there comes a time when you have to let go, and to admit that it is outside of your ability to change. Like the old serenity prayer goes.

The key with this one is that the more energy you put in that space outside your circle of influence, the more energy and time you are draining and basically wasting on something you can't help. Meanwhile, those things you can help, because they're within your circle of influence, are going without - and are neglected.

So, these are some things which may help. You, being at the center of your circle of influence, aren't going to be able to help anyone very much if your overloaded, stressed out, and crying at your desk at work. Clearly.

So let go of a few things. Let go of a few Quadrant Three things, and take some of the time you normally spend on Quadrant Four and spend it on Quadrant Two instead. And take some of your Soul's energy out of that area outside of your Circle of Influence, and bring it to the center.

In this context, you are not being selfish by focusing on yourself. Imagine if you were at peace, humble, and effectively dealing with things as they came up, and had plenty of time and energy left over for celebration - even if you were at work or commuting at the time. The life force you would pass on to others would be something they would enjoy and benefit from.

So hopefully that will give you something to go on for now, please let me know how you are doing with it in a week or so.

Your Brother in Light,
Frater BT

(just FYI, after 1-31 I felt a lot better - 4-13-11)


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