Stress? You can beat it today.
Stress is one of the biggest health threats of today. In the US only, a staggering 8,3 million people report to suffer from serious psychological stress, anxiety and depression.
If you want to stay fit and healthy, it’s essential to acknowledge stress symptoms as soon as possible — then act upon it. In this article you will find a powerful stress reducing method, so you don’t have to resort to swallowing pills and powders or weirdy beardy meditation sessions in order to find inner calm, emotional balance and a clear focus.
Why you have to take stress seriously
Ever since we have learned to accept stress as a common part of our Western lives, we are no longer alerted to the devastating effects of daily stress on our wellbeing. We just deal with it and go on with the jobs at hand. Only much later, once stress has developed into chronic stress and holds you in its iron clasp, your body starts to moan and falter and you understand you have been pushing yourself too far — for too long.
In this article I will delve into the various stress triggers and how our thinking is the root cause of stress. Then I’ll tell you about the power of mindfulness, which will help you ban stress from your life in a consistent and responsible way. Since my approach is straight-forward and doesn’t require meditation, this article comes with 3 easy-to-apply tips to prevent you from subconsciously building up tension.
Not knowing about the impact of stress might cost you dearly
If you suffer from stress and feel tense regularly, please take 5 minutes to read this information as it could potentially prevent you from falling victim to potentially life-threatening physical or psychological disorders.
Don’t worry — I won’t bother you with statistics and jargon. My articles are always easy to digest and filled with clear-cut insights that you simply can’t afford not to know. So if you are fed up with your stressful life and want to give your wellbeing a true health boost, keep on reading.
Meet this former stress-addict
Hi, my name is Marisa Garau and being a true stress veteran I know every nook and cranny of the spectacularly divers universe of stress. I experienced a lot of stress as a child since I have a highly sensitive personality. But when I grew into a young adult and found myself struggling in school, my stress levels rose to seriously unhealthy levels.
Instead of acknowledging and actively reducing my stress, I made it my personal crusade to fight my sensitivities. Extreme Ambition and carefully cultivated Perfectionism became my life buddies. I reasoned that they would make me a ‘good girl’ at last, rather than that easily frightened and stressed case that had frustrated my parents and teachers for so many years.
And so, after completing uni, I rolled up my sleeves and worked 24/7 to build up a posh career in the glittering world of advertising. After a few years I got bored with slaving away for the major ad agencies and so I started my own agency… with a lot more tasks, a lot more responsibilities and a lot more stress.
Stress quickly turned chronic and my wellbeing went downhill. I suffered from thyroid imbalance and was treated with radioactive iodine twice. I developed a dangerous eye disease that demanded surgery three times. I experienced extreme lumbago at least four times a year; and I went through bouts of depression, which at some stage became so seriously that I was in treatment for more than a year.
But suddenly, when I turned 37, it was all over. I tumbled in acute burnout. Exhausted from leading such a fast, shallow and stressful life, I didn’t have to think twice and quit my career right there and then.
My wake-up call
This is more than ten years ago and since then my life has changed beyond recognition. I started to practise mindfulness and since then I live according to the sensible mindfulness principles.
I have written two internationally published bestsellers on mindfulness. I develop practical e-programmes and write heaps of articles for my website about my unorthodox approach of mindfulness. I’m a regular contributor of websites such as Men’s Health, Weight Watchers and Marie Claire and I’m frequently invited to share my expertise at webinars about stress, anxiety and depression.
My private life has also changed profoundly. The moment I turned to mindfulness, I became clear-minded and saw that I had been addicted to stress and worrying. Only then I was able to acknowledge how this had isolated me from my husband and friends. Since becoming aware and opening up to a higher consciousness, my friendships have deepened and the relation with my husband is warm and loving. We now even work together — without locking horns and pointing blaming fingers to one another 😄😘
Mindfulness has healed me from all those serious ailments and gently led me back to my true self. This has invigorated my natural self-confidence to such an extend that I’m a very content, grateful and happy person. I don’t only keep myself healthy, but I also help others to stay sane in the insanity of today’s demanding world.
If it wasn’t me who went through all this… my old, bitter self would have probably laughed about it, thinking: ‘So cute, but not quite something that could ever happen to me!’
But yes… it did happen to me. And since I have helped thousands of others experience that very same inner shift, I know there are some great things in store for you too — even if you are a total stress-junkie like I used to be.
But in order to reduce your stress, you first need to know what stress is and how it’s being caused.
What exactly is stress?
Stress is that tight feeling in your chest or stomach that can totally overwhelm you in all kinds of situations:
when you think you are going to miss your flight
when someone is trying to jump the queue
when your manager is entering your office with a red face
when your colleagues stop talking when you pass by
when you quarrel with your partner
when your baby doesn’t stop crying
when you discover you ran out of bread
when there is a spider in the bathroom
At such moments your body releases the stress hormone cortisol, which prepares you to fight, flight or freeze and which protects you against life-threatening danger. It’s a truly magnificent system. But… in our safety-obsessed society you are hardly ever in real life danger. And so your body is getting totally prepared for nothing but trivial threats.
Since being civilised means that we are conditioned to overrule our instincts, you immediately try to get back in control and not let your primitive instincts act upon ‘life-threatening’ dangers.
And so, while the stress hormone is vigorously pumped through your body, you won’t allow yourself to actually run away the moment your upset manager enters your office.
Your body, not being allowed to jump into action, can now only helplessly endure the intense waves of cortisol. Guess what this does to your immune system if this mechanism is kicking into action more than once a day?
Where does stress really come from?
Contrary to what you might think, stress isn’t triggered by those stressful situations that I have just described.
I’ll give you an example.
Probably you’re not stressing out when you discover that there is no bread in the pantry. You will just eat something else, right? However, loads of people do experience an emotional meltdown upon discovering they ran out of bread… no matter how strange and unnecessary this may seem.
I’ll give you another example.
The miracle of having a baby would make most mothers happy, wouldn’t you agree?
However… quite a few mothers (13% of women with a recent live birth) slip into a serious postpartum depression after having given birth to their baby.
It seems that stress arises independently of your situation
What you consider to be a happy event, can be experienced as a complete disaster by the next person.
It’s clear that the situation isn’t at fault… stress is solely caused by your own emotional response to a certain situation.
You might now shake your head in utter disagreement and come up with at least 5 situations that really cause stress, such as… hearing from your specialist that you have an incurable disease. Now, how’s that for an example? Certainly this is a case where the situation causes stress… not you, right?
Let me take this a bit further and let’s imagine the worst possible situation thinkable:
You are going to die soon.
Would this truth cause immense emotional stress in itself?
Or would your own response to this truth cause immense emotional stress?
In order to answer this question, let’s look at two different scenarios that represent the two options you’d have in such a dire-looking situation:
1. You will stress out
You completely lose it – you scream, you throw a tantrum, you pull your hair, you howl and plead, you curse and damn everyone you know, you smash all your vases against the wall, you breathlessly instruct your lawyer to sue your specialists and the whole hospital. Then… you cry your eyes out. Then you become apathetic. Then you become extremely agitated.
This process goes on for weeks while, on the inside, your thoughts go berserk:
‘What about the children?’
‘How could this happen?’
‘What have I done to deserve this?’
‘My partner can’t possibly cope without me.’
‘How can my parents survive losing me?’
But then… at some stage, you grow really tired of your own emotions that run rampant through your body and soul. You turn silent and, after the rage, denial, and grief… you somehow conform to the situation.
You choose to accept your own death because now you see that all these stages full of overwhelming emotions have actually not changed the situation a bit. You are still going to die soon. Even worse so… all those intense emotions have only drained your precious last energy – energy which you could have invested in sharing some last, meaningful experiences with your children, partner, parents and friends.
Then, after some more time and some more introspection, you’re finally ready to say goodbye with a quiet heart and a wise mind, and you’ll die a peaceful death.
Let’s now have a look at the second scenario:
2. You won’t stress out
You accept reality as it is. You spend your final energy going through some amazing experiences with your loves ones, thoroughly enjoying each other’s company and having some unforgettable conversations. Then you’re ready to say goodbye with a quiet heart and a wise mind, and you’ll die a peaceful death.
Your response is the key
Can you see that even in such an extreme situation like this one, the stress you experience is caused by your response to this reality — not by the reality itself?
The fact that you are dying soon is not stressful. It just is. It’s a natural situation. We all know it is just how nature works.
Think of a plant that is quietly dying somewhere in the back of your garden. You don’t know it. Nobody does.
When there is nobody to think about this plant dying in the back of your garden… it’s just something that happens, right? it’s not intrinsically good, or intrinsically bad. It just is.
If there is no-one to judge this process, it’s nothing but a process. Nothing good or bad about it.
But when you are present to see this happening, as with your own upcoming death, your mind goes berserk and starts to produce all sorts of judgements:
this should never happen!
how am I to cope with this?
help, I can’t cope with this!
this is the end of me!
As soon as mental judgements kick in, any natural situation (like death – or the birth of a beautiful baby – or a manager that walks into an office with a red face) becomes charged with feelings.
And so you feel:
completely stressed out
This is what happened to me day in day out. If I felt I was going to be late for a meeting with a client, my thoughts would immediately run rampant:
‘The client will be mad as!’
‘They might disapprove of my work!’
‘They might refuse to pay my invoice!’
‘I won’t be able to pay my bills and taxes!’
‘I might have to file for bankruptcy!’
‘I might lose my house too and become homeless!’
‘No one will love me and I’ll die lonely and broke!’
My brain would cook up a bitter cocktail of bizarre judgements and I, its owner, would just helplessly gulp it down.
No matter how ridiculous this seems when you read it written out like this… it’s these very thoughts that your mind produces too when something unexpected and inconvenient happens.
The thing though is that, just like me back then, you are not aware of it.
You don’t know that these damaging thoughts assault your wellbeing and cause emotional havoc.
You do notice that you’ll start sweating, you’ll breathe shallowly, your heart rate will go up and your mouth will turn dry. But once you notice these reactions… it’s too late and cortisol is already busy attacking the vulnerable systems of your poor body.
A situation doesn’t cause stress.
Allowing your mind to drag you into panicky thoughts causes stress.
Without these thoughts you wouldn’t even flinch when your manager would march into your office with an angry look on her face. You would simply observe: the manager walks into my office angrily. Nothing more.
But your untrained and uncontrolled mind helplessly slips into its panicky habit and starts dishing up a complete disaster scenario: ‘She’s mad with me — I must have done something terribly wrong — maybe it’s because of me that we missed out on that important deal — she might fire me — what am I going to do without a job and without any money???’
Don’t allow your mind to create drama
Once you accept that it are your very own judgemental, frightening thoughts that actually cause you to feel stressed… you have opened yourself up to a life-changing insight.
Acknowledging it is your thinking process that causes all sorts of intense, nerve wracking emotions, is not just a first step… but a giant leap on your path to a life enlightened by mindfulness.
Because understanding that your very own thinking mind creates stress by judging each and every situation to be bad or good, puts you in total control.
Many realities can’t be easily influenced, like your angry manager walking into your office or the approach of your own death.
But there is something you can influence: your response to those situations.
When the doctor tells you that you suffer from an incurable disease, you don’t have to go berserk.
You can stay calm, knowing that your mind will produce masses of judgemental thoughts.
Choose to withstand the toxic content of your thoughts
This is exactly what one of my friends did when the hospital specialist told him he had lung cancer and only two months to live. My friend didn’t throw a tantrum and didn’t pull his hair. He blamed no-one and he didn’t even cry. He quietly accepted this truth and made the most of those two precious months with his wife and children. He then died in complete peace.
Because of his attitude, his wife and children now look back fondly to those final months that were filled with good conversations and lots of laughter. Ted knew he had had a good, rich, beautiful life and was happy to let go without putting up a senseless fight.
He did not allow his mind to drag him into terrible thoughts filled with anger, resentment, regret and grief. He consciously practised gratitude and decided to enjoy his life till his very last breath.
My husband and I never even cried when he passed away. We knew he had died in total acceptance of his fate and we were humbled by his choice not to burden himself or his loved ones with denial and rage.
Controlling your mind makes life a lot easier — for you… and others
Maybe it seems unnatural to accept what is, rather than fighting it.
But as you can see for yourself, it sure makes life a lot less painful. Not just for you, but for your loved ones as well.
You can consciously decide to accept reality for what it is, from not having bread in the pantry to facing your own death… and everything in between.
Deciding to accept reality for what it is, and actively choosing a relaxed attitude when confronted with situations and people you don’t like, gives you total control over your emotional wellbeing.
You will never again need to try to forcefully change situations or people and make them suit your needs… when you simply control your thinking process and your responses.
And this approach holds the clue to solving this stress you so suffer from: no situation or person can stress you out since you are the one who decides to stress out… or stay calm and relaxed.
Mindfulness — a natural remedy against stress
Mindfulness has liberated me and has given me a brand new life. My life now is free of stress, free of psychotherapy, free of disorders such as a thyroid imbalance, muscle cramps and a nasty eye disease which were all caused by chronic stress.
Living according to the mindfulness principles has taught me that stress is not caused by the universe or bad luck — but… by myself. Or rather: by my very own fearful thoughts I wasn’t in control of.
Mindfulness teaches you to think sensibly
With mindfulness you train yourself to recognise this current of negative, undermining thoughts in time… and not having yourself swept into their dark content.
With mindfulness you teach yourself how to stay in control and not being sucked into the panic of all those random, unrealistic, toxic thoughts.
With mindfulness you train yourself to stick to reality as it is.
Because reality is just fine
You find yourself in a traffic name… so what?
You manager walks into your office… so what?
Your colleagues stop talking when you pass by… so what?
You ran out of bread… so what?
This is of the very same order as:
The sun rises in the morning.
The grass is green.
You won’t worry about that, right? Do you see that it is only when you attach certain nagging thoughts to certain situations, that stress arises? When this becomes a habit, your stress will become chronic, and most probably your body will develop some nasty disorders, which will cause more stress… and on, and on, and on.
Now you know why stress-relief pills don’t work
Now you know that pills and powders can’t possibly work against stress. No matter how easy it seems to just swallow a pill and feel nice and relaxed… it still won’t help you to keep all those negative thoughts at bay — unless you would drug yourself senseless and knock your busy mind out 😁
How can you start lowering your stress levels today?
In this article I explained how stress is formed in your mind and what its negative effects are on your body and mind. Now you know that you can easily recognise stress — when you get overwhelmed by a current of negative but unrealistic thoughts as soon as you find yourself in a situation that upsets you. I’ve also made you see that mindfulness is a natural mind-tool to keep negative thoughts at bay.
A practical mindfulness anti-stress approach
The following mindfulness tips will ease your stress instantly, without having to sit on a meditation cushion or stare in the flame of a candle. So please go through these steps, so you’ll come prepared when your panicky mind judges a situation as potentially stressful.
As soon as you start to stress out (notice the signs: higher heart rate, dry mouth, sweaty hands), you focus on the thoughts that will quickly fill up your head. ‘Look’ at these thoughts: what exactly are they telling you, what disaster scenario are they cooking up, what false beliefs are they instilling in your mind? Observe your thoughts to gain a quick insight in your personal thought process — without condemning these thoughts.
You now talk to yourself (out loud if you wish to) as a wise person would to someone who’s threatening to lose it: ‘I am in a traffic jam… I’m healthy and safe. All is well right now. I won’t fret about this situation which I can’t influence anyway. I will focus on sensations in my body, such as the breath. I consciously choose not to make myself upset. I refuse to listen to any negative thoughts.’
In my 50-page ebook I explain what mindfulness does for your emotional wellbeing and how my approach makes it very easy to apply mindfulness in your life. My exercises don’t demand that you plan your life around them. You don’t have to learn how to meditate. And you don’t have to schedule mindfulness as yet another task on your busy to-do list.
Instead, my method is flexible and simply adapts to your daily routines, so that you can practise mindfulness in everything you do. With consistency you will turn mindfulness into a healthy habit. Within a week you’ll start feeling more relaxed and clear-minded. Just try it… since you have nothing to lose than your stress.