Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Stressing Out About Stress Management

In The Mindful Way Through Depression:  Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, the reader is reminded, again and again, that
Clarity and steadiness of the mind may follow as by-products of such awareness [practiced in mindfulness meditation] and from allowing things to be as they are, but if we take momentary calmness as a sign of how much progress we are making and momentary restlessness as a sign of lack of progress, we are merely sowing the seeds of further frustration and despair, for we are letting the doing mind compare our "achievement" with some desired "outcome."  As long as we are trying to get rid of unpleasant thoughts or feelings or trying to achieve peace of mind, we will continue to be frustrated.  [p. 95]
I am beginning to observe how my frantic attempts to deal with the stresses in my life, and in my mind where they are nurtured in fertile, anxious ground, are adding to my stress level.  My daily To Do list now starts with roughly three hours worth of activities which are chiefly intended to help manage stress, though they have other purposes and benefits.  Add in the hour to hour and a half I generally spend in writing blog posts on weekdays, the four plus hours spent, on average, at work on two part-time jobs, the requisite half-hour for personal hygiene, the time needed to shop, pay bills, parent two teenagers and maintain a relationship with my spouse, the minimal recreation I allow myself from time-to-time, and the time spent talking with my sister/best friend and my mom, and it's no wonder I'm stressed and exhausted.

I don't think that the answer is to drop these activities, which I enjoy and am happy to have stopped putting off.  But I do think I need to be less stressed about stress, and about my "failure" to reduce its symptoms.  I need to relax about becoming relaxed.  And related to my post earlier this week about procrastination and "shoulds," I need to stop experiencing the measures I am taking to deal with the physical and psychological manifestations of prolonged stress as mandated by some external forces of mental health and well-being.   

My To Do list is made by me.  I decide how I will try to spend my day, based on my commitments and plans and needs.  So when I find myself saying I "have to" go meditate, or I "should" be doing my yoga, or I'm "supposed to" be swimming/biking/running for so many minutes, I am going to try to stop and correct my language, and thus my experience. I am going to try to enjoy the activities for themselves, and to remember that
There is no such thing as failing at meditation [and stress management, in general], as long as we are mindful of our experience, whatever it is.  [The Mindful Way Through Depression, pp.111-112]
In other words, I will try to be more mindful of my approach to coping with stress, and to trust that how I am currently feeling continues to present opportunities to learn.

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