Mindfulness and Stress: Unwrapping Your Package
by Maya Frost
What triggers stress for you?
Most people think they know exactly what pushes their buttons, but they're going for the low-hanging fruit. It's the stuff that's hanging in the hard-to-reach branches that tends to multiply our feelings of frustration, exhaustion and disconnection.
One client (let's call her Jenna) told me that she knows very well what causes stress for her: "My boss. He won't give me a promotion. Thanks to him, I've got a pile of bills that are harder and harder to pay."
Well, isn't that a tidy little package? But here's the problem: Jenna looks at that package and feels that there is nothing she can do with it. "I have to work with the boss who hates me." "I have to work harder to get a promotion." "I have to make more money to pay my bills." End of story.
When we put our supposed stress triggers into a package like that, we create an obstacle--the big box marked "This is my life"--that seems impossible to change. That's why we need to shake that package, unwrap it, and see what's really inside.
In Jenna's case, shaking that life package revealed that the whole "My boss is out to get me" story tended to color her perception regarding everything about her job.
The truth was that she loved the work, enjoyed her colleagues, and felt she was making a difference. However, she didn't feel appreciated by her boss because she didn't get the promotion she'd expected due to the company's reorganization.
Really, her whole "my boss is ruining my life" belief was a story she created to avoid looking at the fact that she was feeling under pressure to make more money to provide for her family's increasing needs.
Adding fuel to the fire, her young children were getting into activities--elite soccer and gymnastics, ice skating--that required more money and created more stress. Her husband Scott was helpful in sharing the income-earning and workload at home, but was also stressed and worried about his own job. Every night, the two of them talked about how much they hated their situation.
They were drained.
With a little help, Jenna was able to pay attention to what matters most:
1) providing a comfortable lifestyle while doing work she enjoyed
2) having time and energy to spend with her loved ones
With a little digging, she recognized that her boss had nothing to do with her frustration. She even went online and did some research, and discovered that her salary was higher than average for the work she was doing in her city. What was stressing her was the idea that she had to continue to work hard in order to support a lifestyle that was becoming increasingly expensive and exhausting.
We all do the same thing. We create stories that make it easier for us to accept what we view as unchangeable circumstances.
Jenna and Scott had a heart-to-heart talk. Once they understood the real situation and how their combined storytelling exacerbated their stress, things shifted.
They agreed that what they wanted most for their family was a simpler way of life. Together, they decided to limit their expenses and activities, having more dinners home together, more time on the weekend to enjoy family outings, less strain on the family budget. The children were fine with giving up their sports if it meant doing more fun things as a family. They'd signed up initially simply because their friends were doing the same.
Many of the things we feel we NEED to do are simply things we start to do. Without paying attention to what we might be losing in the process, these activities can become an obstacle to creating a happy, relaxed home life.
Jenna's looking forward to less stress, more fun, and greater awareness. She feels much lighter now that she recognizes that her story was based on frustration, not facts.
Oh, and that package? It turns out there wasn't much in it after all.
Sometimes, those are the best ones to unwrap.
© 2005-2020 Maya Frost
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Maya Frost is an author, mindfulness trainer, and creative change strategist.
Learn more at MayaFrost.com
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