Stress has become a major issue for both employers and staff. Techniques to deal with stress are now being taught within organisations. Books on the subject abound. Everything from time management, to relaxation, to exercise, is taught in the name of stress reduction.
But, although these tools can be useful, they are largely missing the point. After all, potentially stressful situations are generally unavoidable. However, whether or not we feel stressed in these situations is entirely down to the way we think. This explains why one person can feel stressed in a particular situation while another, in the same situation, may not feel stressed at all.
In order to feel stressed we must be in a state of resistance. This means being unhappy, dissatisfied or distressed about our situation. This nearly always means wanting our situation to be different right now. This is called ‘resisting what is’. It’s an example of irrational thinking. Nothing can ever be different right now. The best we can ever hope for is to be able to change our situation in the next moment or the future. The only rational thing to do is to ‘accept what is’ (or ‘what was’) and to focus on how we might be able to change the future.
In fact, nearly all unhappiness, dissatisfaction, disappointment, irritation, stress or any other negative thought involves ‘resisting what is’ (or ‘what was’). Either we are wanting something that’s happened not to have happened, or we’re wanting a situation that exists right now not to exist right now.
In short we want something to be ‘already’ different. This is wishing for the impossible. It’s completely irrational. It’s ‘crazy.’ This is why nearly all humans are ‘crazy’ to some degree, since nearly all of us ‘resist what is’ from time to time!
The only exception is worrying about the future. Worry involves wanting something to be different in the future in a way we believe we cannot control. This is just as crazy as wanting something to be ‘already’ different. The only sensible thing to do is to accept what we cannot change and focus only on gaining more control over whatever we can change.
I train my clients to ‘accept what is’ all the time (which includes accepting ‘what was’ and ‘what will be’ to the extent we cannot control it). I encourage them to practice identifying their ‘crazy’ thoughts, dropping them and refocusing on what they can do, and want to do, to improve the future.
If I’m under pressure to meet a challenging deadline, and I’m unhappy or stressed about this, I’m not ‘accepting what is’. ‘Accepting what is’ involves saying to myself: “this is the situation right now. It makes no sense to wish it were already different and I’ll gain nothing by doing so.” If I totally ‘accept what is’ I can focus on what I need to do to resolve the issue or make it different: meet the deadline, ask for help or change the deadline.
Feelings or emotions can stop us being able to ‘accept what is’ right now. So it’s also important to deal with our emotions using similar ‘acceptance’ techniques. Learning to accept our uncomfortable feelings is one of the most powerful psychological tools anyone can learn in their lifetime. Once we can accept the feeling, then we can move to accepting what is. People who ‘accept what is’ focus on solutions not problems. Therefore they don’t feel stressed.
The variation of ‘accepting what is’ that can be applied to the future is to ‘accept what we can’t control’ and focus on what we can control. This eliminates worry, another source or symptom of stress.
Some people naturally ‘accept what is’, but for most it’s a skill, which like any other skill, needs to be learned and practiced. Once we become skilled at ‘accepting what is’ all the time, all dissatisfaction, regret, worry and stress disappears. We cannot be stressed unless we’re having a ‘crazy’ thought involving ‘resisting what is’. By accepting what is, you can say goodbye to stress forever.