'Life is full of uncertainty and change. It is best to try to keep calm in the face of adversity and say to yourself: What is, is'

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By Joanne Reid Rodrigues

IT’S said that stress is the spice of life. But this only applies to ‘eustress’, meaning ‘good stress’. We might experience this when we’re moving house or going on holiday – there’s so much to organise. What great relief we feel when we’re actually on the plane or in the new house, if it’s a move we’d planned. There’s a reward that comes after the stressful period – the holiday or new home. Eustress has definite advantages. It wakes us up and it can even be growth-promoting.

I recall the stress I felt when learning to drive in Los Angeles. Learning the freeway system and finding my way around the city was a white-knuckle ride, every day. But when I passed my test and gained confidence driving around the city, I felt an uplifting sense of achievement. It was all worth it.

On the other hand, acute or chronic negative stress, or ongoing distress, drains the joy from life. And this type of stress has multiple health consequences.

Though we’re beginning to emerge from the pandemic, and starting to move forward, many people are still dealing with damage to health caused by the strain of lockdowns. In some cases, the emotional toll has been devastating.

When it all kicked off back in March 2020, I decided that my best defence against the fear-frenzy that was building up was the off-button on my remote control. Naturally, I had to know what was going on to work within the new laws. But I only ever watched local news headlines. My heart smiles when I remember our lovely Gary Burgess. I followed Gary on Twitter and read his column here in the JEP. Regular updates from the Institute of Directors Jersey branch and small business champion Beverley Le Cuirot gave me all the information I needed.

Apart from local news, I never watched any national news. Protection from the relentless fear-promoting national news was an effective strategy. My husband Zak and I refused to catch the mental virus of fear. We played relaxing music and watched a few feel-good movies. Being forced to stay home, I decided to use my time productively. I wrote another book and hosted stress-management webinars.

We all lived through a couple of years that were loaded with low-level stress at best, acute stress and trauma at worst. Many people experienced sleep disturbance, nausea and indigestion, and pain and stiffness in their body due to tense muscles. Some people endured breathing difficulties and panic attacks.

Alcohol consumption and weight gain during lockdowns – as people drank or ate to relieve stress and depression – escalated. The toll on mental health was immense, and the repercussions are still inhibiting the quality of life for many folks.

Chronic stress as well as trauma and acute stress are the cause of a long list of health issues, illnesses and diseases. A few simple life skills can help us manage our stress. In turn, stress-management is a form of preventative medicine.

When people talk to me about their stress, their focus is usually on another person or a situation. They might tell me they’re stressed because their kids drive them mad, or their boss is abrupt or unappreciative. Or it could be a money issue or a health issue – this type of thing.

Certainly, where trauma is concerned, the events or circumstances are pivotal to the symptoms experienced. But the general stress we experience in daily life isn’t caused by others or by happenings or events; general stress happens as a result of how we respond to what’s going on around us.

Like all emotions, stress and anxiety arise within us. They are fear-based mental responses that cause tension and changes in our breathing patterns.

Imagine three people get into a lift and, halfway up, the lift gets stuck. One of them has an all-out panic attack and hyperventilates. One of them is frightened and claustrophobic. The other one is entirely unperturbed and cool as a cucumber, believing that help is on its way. All three people are experiencing the same situation, but their individual responses determine their experience: panic, claustrophobia or a centred calmness.

Resistance to what’s happening causes our stress. It’s a state of mind. Psychological flexibility helps us accept challenges or changes when they come. If our mind is hard like a rock we have no flexibility.

If we’re running late, we usually encounter every red traffic light on our way to work or an important meeting. We can’t change the lights to green. But we can choose whether to fume or accept the situation. What is, is. A few deep breaths can help us maintain our balance. We might very well arrive late, but at least we can arrive calm instead of in a state.

Repeat this mantra many times throughout the day: what is, is.

Suffering is the result of resisting what life is giving us. In most cases the suffering arises from inner conflict between the mind’s expectations of wanting everyone and every circumstance to be what we want for our own security and comfort, versus what life offers. For instance, I want a green light but I’ve got a red light. I want the flight to leave on time but the flight’s delayed. What is, is.

I’m not suggesting we become doormats and accept all sorts of nonsense. But accepting what is, factually, logically and intelligently, and staying calm, allows us to make rational decisions about how to deal with the situation.

Humanity struggles to accept life’s changeability. Making peace with uncertainty is wise, for impermanence is the nature of life. Uncertainty is the only certainty. Those whose minds are hard and inflexible always suffer. Those whose minds are like calm water suffer much less.

Life’s changeability will never stop. Flow with it.

We can’t choose what life gives us, but we can choose how we respond. Accepting what is reduces suffering. Stress or peace are all in our response. And the awareness of the power to choose is self-empowerment.

  • Joanne Reid Rodrigues is the founder of Slimming Together and the creator of The Authentic Confidence Course. She is an author and therapist in nutrition and cognitive behavioural therapy. Joanne can be contacted at JoanneRR.com.

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