On Strike Against Stress

“Stress is not normal.  Stress is common, but it’s not normal.  Joy is normal.” —Elaine Grohman, energy healer

This current semester has been significantly less stressful for me than past semesters.  Why?  Because I had a very simple realization: Stress is the manifestation of fear.

I can imagine you thinking sarcastically, “So . . . you’re telling me I’m not stressed, I’m full of fear.  Gee, thanks, that helps soooo much.  Now . . . how does that solve anything?”

Well, in my case, it changed everything, because I didn’t know how to deal with stress but I did know how to deal with fear.  Recently I’ve studied several scriptures that say “perfect love casts out fear” (see 1 John 4:18), and I’ve read many talks and articles about how “fear and faith cannot coexist in our hearts at the same time” (Elder Neil L. Andersen, “You Know Enough”).  So once I made the connection between stress and fear, all I did was to start asking myself, “What am I afraid of?” and pretty soon I developed the following five steps to banish my stress:

Step 1: Become aware and realize, “Oh, hey, I feel stress.”

Step 2: Ask myself, “What are you afraid of?

Step 3: Make an honest list of what I’m afraid of.

Step 4: Have fun brainstorming and reasoning how more love or more faith can be applied to conquer those fears.

Step 5: Meditate for a minute to generate more love and faith.  Boom.  Feelings of stress shrivel and melt immediately in that kind of company.

Here’s an example of how I might use the five steps.  Let’s say I’m studying for a big exam tomorrow (which is actually true).  Step 1: “Oh, guess what?  I’m stressed.”  Step 2: “What am I afraid of?”  Step 3: “Let’s see . . . I’m afraid of getting a bad score, ruining my GPA, and then not getting into a good grad school and ruining my career.”  Step 4: “Love . . . well, do I love learning or not?  Do I love the people who will benefit from my knowledge or not?  Faith . . . Do I or do I not have faith that if I’m meant to be in a certain grad school then God will provide a way?  Do I or do I not have faith that even if my life doesn’t go as planned I can still have an awesome life?”  Step 5: “Wow . . . I’m so privileged to have access to an education and to this information.  This is so cool!  Wow, I can close my eyes and visualize myself being a blessing to everyone around me, no matter where I end up. ”

Stress is the result of the fight-or-flight response, which releases certain chemicals in the body to deal with the perceived threat.  But since usually we’re not literally “fighting” or taking “flight” from the things that stress us, those chemicals just go in circles and do more harm than good.  They give us the false impression that impending doom is gaining on us.  And they halt the “rest and digest” mode for far too long, so it’s no wonder we start falling apart.

The fears that fuel the stress are often so subtle and subconscious that just the act of saying aloud to yourself, “What are you afraid of?” does wonders.  Use your own pride to your advantage.  No one wants to admit that they’re afraid of anything, even to themselves, so when you accuse yourself of being afraid of something, then your subconscious mind immediately goes to work to negate those fears, which turns off the switch for the stress response.

Is it really that easy?  I believe it can be.  However, so many people struggle with serious stress and anxiety and depression that I don’t mean to be insensitive by over-simplifying the solution.  So forgive my naivete.  Other factors that may have contributed to my recent decrease in stress could be that I’ve been getting more sleep, eating more healthy, and exercising.  Or, honestly, maybe I just don’t have enough disasters and major problems in my life at the moment to truly stress me.  So we’ll see how my method holds up in the future.    

But for now, humor me by asking yourself “What am I afraid of?” the next time you feel stressed, and let me know how that goes.

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