Guest Post: This article was written by Adam Davidson of Anxiety.org. The site offers information on a variety of anxiety disorders and tips on dealing with your symptoms.
Stress is a difficult thing to live with. Many people in the world, me included, just learn to accept stress as part of life. But often times there comes a break point when something has got to give. Mine came when my wife told me we were getting divorced.
Along with the massive emotional backlash and rejection there was an incredible amount of stress thrust upon me. My old life was gone. I needed to become a single Dad, figure out a way to make enough money to support myself and my child, try to rebuild my own self, and just get through each day. To say I was just a little bit stressed was a massive understatement.
That stress created almost a paralyzing state where it seemed easier to do nothing; but that wasn’t coping. So I did what many people do and went on a self-help journey. I read a large number of books on coping, Buddhism, psychology, Tao, and pretty much anything else that I thought would help. I read up on anxiety symptoms and depression. While all that reading was interesting there was nothing that allowed me to just let go and be. Then one afternoon while working in my daughter’s pre-school class something clicked.
I had been running around with a bunch of the kids playing tag for about 15 minutes. It was a nice sunny day and I was just focused on playing and having fun. The bell rang to clean up and I suddenly realized I was happy. There was no tension in my neck. I wasn’t worried about anything. Heck I wasn’t even thinking about anything. I was just relaxed, smiling like an idiot, and happy.
That whole night I thought about it. The idea is similar to Buddhist and other types of mediation where people sit and breathe to learn how to focus thoughts. The idea is about being in the ‘now’. It is a powerful concept. Basically you acknowledge that you have problems and issues, but you don’t let them bother you unless it is time to think about them. You instead learn to focus on exactly what you are doing and try to find the joy in it.
When I was playing there was no room to worry about rebuilding my life, I was too busy running from the kids. I went back to the carefree time of being a kid where you just enjoy the moment. It is like when you get involved in a really good book or movie; you are so wrapped up in the story that you forget about your own concerns.
From there it was just remembering to practice the idea of "being here now". We all have negative or stressful thoughts, but constantly allowing ourselves to dwell on them while doing other things does two things. First, it wastes energy. It is fine to be angry or hurt. Those feelings are natural and okay to have. When it is time to do it you should sit down and explore those feelings. But by thinking about them constantly is wasteful. Second, it steals joy from your life. When you let those thoughts creep in then it changes your mood and ruins your focus from what you are actually doing. If you take pride in your work but can’t focus on your work then you lose the chance to enjoy doing a good job.
So what I learned to do was recognize when my mind wandered to stressful things. I would remind myself it was okay to be upset, worried, or hurt, but now was not the time to think about it. Then I would set time aside later to really work on those feelings and acknowledge them as well as plan to overcome them. This allowed me to get back to what I should be doing. I would ask myself, "What are we doing?" and then answer, "Enjoying listening to the radio while driving to school to pick-up my daughter. Then I am going to have fun playing with her."
Once I learned how to do this regularly my stress went away. I stopped having headaches as much and began to sleep better. Plus I learned how to better deal with my feelings. When I was happy it was for longer periods. If I did get upset it was easier to work through. That is something valuable that is worth sharing with anyone who wants less stress in their lives.