“Your dad’s had a heart attack.”
My own heart shot into my throat, hearing my mother’s garbled words a thousand miles away.
“He’s going to be okay, but maybe you could fly out?”
It’s been almost two years since my father’s heart attack and he’s made important changes that have improved his life quality considerably. Both my grandfather and grandmother died of heart disease. They experienced immense socio-economic challenges and faced more stressful life situations than I could possibly imagine.
However, this part of my own family history has inspired me to explore ways to reduce stress in my own life and the lives of my clients. Today, I would like to share with you one idea I find incredibly useful in building a stress-resilient life.
One of the most powerful tools to live a stress-resilient life, is the idea is that we have more influence over stress than we imagine.
The interactionist model of stress, developed by Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman, proposes that how you think about an event and how you perceive your ability to cope, is what ultimately determines the level of stress you will experience. In other words, if you trust that you will get through whatever challenge you are facing and trust that challenge will not break you, you have already gained some traction against stress.
Let’s be honest: life can really hurt sometimes. Unless you are truly a master of Zen, chances are that losing a job, experiencing the breakup of a relationship, or dealing with an illness, will be painful.
We cannot always influence the stuff that happens in our lives to the extent we wish we could: we may not be able to get that job back, that lover back, or our health back in exactly the way we want. But we can absolutely influence the stuff that happens in our heads and in our hearts.
We can pro-actively practice and develop the discipline of protecting our hearts and minds from adding to our suffering with negative, undermining, and discouraging self-talk. We can pro-actively practice the habit of acknowledging the difficulties and make a conscious decision to engage with ourselves in a way that nourishes us with spoonfuls of courage on the journey to our goals. How we make sense of the difficult experiences in our lives can diminish or even prevent the stress of those experiences from taking over an even larger part of our lives.
Here is an activity you can practice right now:
- Write down a situation in your life that is stressful.
- Write down (without censoring yourself) all the things you are saying to yourself about this situation.
- Now write down all the things you could say to yourself, if you were an encouraging mentor, coaching yourself through this difficulty.
- When you notice your feelings of stress around this situation immobilizing or raising upsetting you, review your notes and practice your encouraging mentor voice.
Become a “jealous guardian” (I love this phrase from Barack Obama’s farewell speech) for the environment of the mind that is the soil bed of the seeds of your reality and the heart that beats with the rhythm of the dreams that dance there.