I’ve something major to tell you:
There is no such thing as stress, only the belief that we don’t possess the resources to handle a given situation.
This isn’t new-age optimism or clever logic; it’s the truth. The idea comes straight from the Wikipedia page for psychological stress:
“Humans experience stress, or perceive things as threatening, when they do not believe that their resources for coping with obstacles (stimuli, people, situations, etc.) are enough for what the circumstances demand. When people think the demands being placed on them exceed their ability to cope, they then perceive stress.”
So let me tell you again:
There is no such thing as stress, only the belief that we don’t possess the resources to handle a given situation.
Let’s chew on this, digging deeper.
As humans there are myriad things that can cause us to feel stress – that is to say, to feel we do not possess the resources to handle a given situation. Not one person reading this can’t relate; however, by learning that stress is only the belief we don’t possess the resources to face what we perceive as the source of our stress, we suddenly have a much greater understanding about what stress is and how it is caused.
To provide a concrete example that demonstrates the nature of stress as a belief in inadequate resources, we need only imagine that what is stressful for us may be nothing to someone else – just as what is stressful to others may be a cakewalk for us. Think of public speaking, starting a new job, or meeting someone new. These are, like all potential sources of stress, stressful only insofar as they correspond to an individual’s belief in their inability to handle a given situation. Meaning: the degree to which we feel we can’t “handle” something, is the degree to which we perceive that thing as stressful.
This all may seem rather dry but the implications are staggering… I promise you. For once we realize that stress is dependent upon perceived deficiencies in our internal judgements – rather than something that stems solely from our assessments of external factors – something major happens: suddenly we become responsible for our stress. And when we become responsible for anything, it instantly becomes within our power to control.
That’s right. I pump good medicine – I’m a self-professed ‘mind hacker’, a programmer. Sure, I write code too, but the alphabet, words, are also code – and consciousness – the brain – is very much like a computer. Give someone a program – a belief – that says they don’t have the resources to handle a given situation, and they will experience stress. This is a program. And I’m writing to reprogram me, to connect the dots and achieve liberation through understanding. But we still need a few more dots to see the whole picture.
Interestingly, the word gnosis – from which we get ‘gnostic’, relating to knowledge – comes from the ancient greek gnōsis, meaning, to know. And many gnostics believe Jesus was not divine but, rather, was just a human who attained divinity through gnosis (Intellectual or spiritual knowledge), which he taught to his followers (Obligatory Gospel of Thomas shoutout). This gnostic interpretation of the Jesus archetype is a great parable for how we can “attain divinity” – i.e., achieve liberation – through knowledge.
I truly believe this having been to a hell and back of my own making. It’s only through knowledge, through understanding, that I have been freed from my past fears, insecurities, paranoias, doubts and stressors. And it is only via pain that I have ever been led to any real knowledge; for bringing light to the dark doesn’t work: it is only by bringing the darkness to light that we become visible, that we are enlightened. And you’re free to scoff at my indirect assertion that I am enlightened but I believe it is enlightened (From Old English inlīhtan, meaning, to shine.) to overcome oneself. For there is no other gatekeeper between you and the divine (From Latin divis, godlike.) I use old words because I’m talking about old concepts. The nature of human aspiration. We just have better metaphors than god and heaven now. I’ll take Self-Actualization for five-hundred, please.
Fulfillment. Wellbeing. Emotional and psychical health. This is my shit. I’m here to shine. And I’ve already transformed myself and made my world what it is. But the work never ends. It just gets higher and higher, and the freedom you find in following the seeking of the will gets deeper and deeper. And it’s all from knowledge. Learning. This is how we evolved, we’re just doing it consciously now.
So if there’s no such thing as stress – only the believe we don’t have the resources to handle a given situation – then let’s bust stress.
Like any phantom menace we need only demystify it. For when we demystify things, we remove all the mystery and confusion surrounding them. And I’d say the mysterious nature of stress has caused some serious confusion in all of our lives. We think it’s out of our control based on an assessment that is very much within our control.
And I’m here to tell you: are that person with the resources to handle any given situation. Straight up.
I believe it was Sidney Poitier who wrote in his memoir that there was a well-worn groove in our DNA for every type of suffering. That any type of pain has worn a path into our being over the course of our evolution, so that we can handle it. I believe that no matter the situation, there exists an archetype, a version of you, within you, that can handle it. Heroes share in common that they are brave. They face things boldly, as one ought to. For it never helps to stress. It never helps to be insecure. It never helps to worry. It helps to be confident. It helps to be calm. It helps to be in control. This is why the Navy seals are taught diaphragmatic breathing, self-talk, mental rehearsal, and goal-setting. We teach our military operators to respond to adverse conditions as successfully as a human can. And while we don’t face deadly enemy-fire or the task of following orders into what may be violent annihilation, our amygdala all the same must respond to life via the same human hardware. None of us lives without the capability to experience fear and stress, and none of us lives free from the behavioral consequences of fear and stress. And it’s not just the fight-flight-or-freeze reactions of the sympathetic nervous system in response to the infralimbic cortex and the amygdala – the stress, the fear itself, which we suffer. The true costs of these undesired states are in-fact far more destructive to our wellbeing than the mere stealing of our joy, peace, and control in the moment. As Harvard Health tells us:
“Chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. It can dampen the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and other common infections. It can contribute to asthma, digestive disorders, cancer, and other health problems. New research even supports the notion that high levels of stress somehow speed up the aging process.“
And if you’re psychical wellbeing, your health, isn’t a compelling enough argument to make you want to eliminate the experience if stress from your life, then how about thinking of the emotional responses to stress: anxiety and aggression. Or the adrenal responses to stress: cortisol and adrenaline.
But it gets worse: stress causes depressive like behaviors and adversely effects us socially. Big surprise: our relationships take the big toll. We’ve all seen this, and probably from both sides: from that of the stressed person and from that of the one in their vicinity suffering the consequences of their emotional dysregulation, which is linked to depression, anxiety, eating-disorders, smoking, self-harm, and substance abuse.
We know that stress causes depression and more. And stressful people stress others out, pushing a toxic cycle forward. It sucks.
I spent so long being this guy. Stress – my own lack of belief in my resources to handle a given situation – cost me all my relationships, and it cost them a lot too. I was depressed. I didn’t think I had what it took. And so I didn’t. I was the victim of myself. Then came the depression. Tons of self-medicating to feel alive again, and the self-abuse and self-abandonment that follows. Stress made me betray myself and those I love in turn. It made me a shell of myself. I was so afraid that I became a monster.
As Yoda says, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. And hate leads to the dark side.”
I’ve been to the darkside. It’s what led me here. All that pain. It was too much to live with. There was a time before I emerged from the darkness in possession of my shadow (And thus myself), back when my shadow possessed me, back when I had to go somewhere safe and check myself in. And it wasn’t a hotel. And it wasn’t that long ago. But I survived. Pain as heavy as any I’d felt. And the heaviest pain when I saw what I had done to myself and others for years. You could say that it was very sobering.
Looking back on how I was, I was just afraid of how you saw me. And in an attempt to cover up my fears, I became what I feared and worse. Insecurity and worry and uncertainty and stress and doubt and fear are the most unfortunate of all self-fulfilling prophecies. They are the worst of all beliefs. They are awful programs to run and their consequences are absolutely heartbreaking. So why do we run them?
The answer is maddeningly simple: evolution.
While we evolved from fish and monkeys (Whom we can thank for our incredible biology.), most people no longer need to run for their lives or fight to survive regularly. Only this is what we are wired for. Our central nervous system doesn’t know the difference when we experience stress, which is essentially a survival mechanism designed to preserve immediate life at the expense of longterm health and wellbeing.
Given everything I know and my family experiences in life, I can honestly say that nothing is worth stressing out over in our modern world. Nothing is worth fearing.
For they are the same. Like stress, fear is not real. Danger is real. We just fear because we don’t think we have the resources to face the thing we fear.
And so now, knowing what I know now, how much stress do you think I allow myself to experience?
Because to allow myself to experience stress or fear or doubt or worry is to believe that I don’t have the resources to handle a given situation – and that’s simply not true. I do.
I am the person with the resources to handle any given situation. And so are you.
By reminding myself that I can handle any given situation, I’m maintaining a powerful internal locus of control. And by doing this, by knowing that things are in my control, I’m no longer a victim of my biology. I’m actively strengthening my core self evaluation. And given the brain’s synaptic plasticity, I’m engaging in long-term potentiation – the strengthening of synapses that fire together. As chiropractor turned neuroscience guru Joe Dispenza says, “Neurons that fire together wire together.” So every time I respond to a potentially anxiety inducing stimulus by reinforcing my competency, I’m building a better me – one that absolutely has the resources to handle any given situation.
Lastly, I want to share a little anecdote about how I face external situations in a way that reinforces my ability to handle them, without reacting adversely (stress, fear, worry, uncertainty, doubt, insecurity).
I think of myself as a Star Wars character. I imagine that character archetype, someone like Rey – but me. Lord knows I’ve already been Kylo Ren. Hot-headed and reactive. But that doesn’t serve me. It has only harmed me and those I love. But by imagining what kind of hero I could be, I am connected to The Force, the Will, the knowledge that I have the ability to bravely face anything. And it’s getting easier and easier the more I actively engage that part of myself. I guess you could say it’s who I’m becoming. For we are all programming ourselves with our behaviors and our thoughts, whether we know it or not.
May The Force be with you: may you know you have the resources to handle any given situation – calmly, cooly, peacefully, and in control of yourself. Make your inner-child proud and give yourself this power. It’s within you. I promise you.