Introduction course – lesson 5

Stress and relaxation

Stress can be defined as: mental or physical tension in our body which is the result of our reaction to external or internal events.
A little bit of stress can be helpful to stay alert. A lot of stress easily becomes uncomfortable. Too much stress can completely deplete the energy resources of the body and mind, and create a burnout situation.

Stressful events create a rush of the hormone adrenaline in your blood. This triggers the “flight or fight” reflex. Your heart rate increases, the blood flow to your arms and legs is increased to prepare your fight or flight reaction. In itself, this is a very useful mechanism. The problem starts when we experience stressful events too often, and the adrenaline in the body never comes down to normal levels any more. Unfortunately, adrenaline is only broken down very slowly. The best thing to help your body clean up the adrenaline is to get physical exercise.The advice is to go to the gym 3 times per week, or exercise intensively in some other way.

It is also important to increase the awareness of what causes stress in your life, and how you might possibly avoid some of it. On http://zenhabits.net/20-ways-to-eliminate-stress-from-your-life/ there is a list of 20 things which may help you reduce the stress in your life. An edited selection is:

1. Identify stressors
Become aware of what creates stress in your life. Perhaps you can remove some of them.
2. Avoid procrastination
If you postpone doing things you need to do anyway, it creates stress inside you.
3. Avoid disorganization
Clean up your desk and your house. It will very likely feel much better.
4. Avoid being late
No need to explain…
5. Stop trying to control the world around you
Trying to control people and situations usually does not work, and hence creates stress. Try to let this go.
6. Unschedule
Create some free time for yourself every day. Just do what you want to do then.
7. Slow down, avoid multitasking
Doing things slowly and attentively creates much less stress and better results, In the end it may well be more efficient, because you make fewer mistakes.
8. Build relaxing moments into your day
Several times during each day, stop doing what you are doing and just breathe deeply a few times, with your full attention following your breath. Take a (meditative) walk in your lunch break.
9. Avoid expectations
Expectations create craving for the result you expect, and hence stress. Also, when the result is not as expected, you may feel disappointed.
10. Eat healthy food
An unhealthy diet is a source of stress for your body! Also, do not eat too much.
11. Exercise three times a week
This helps break down the built-up adrenaline.
12. Meditate daily

But we can try to eliminate stress as much as we can, in the end there is always going to be some of it in our lives. So, how do we handle it? The biggest problem is that when we experience stress, we often find ourselves with our thoughts constantly working on it. Or, we may even try to fight it, try to push it away, make it something outside ourselves. Both of these reactions unfortunately only provide extra energy to the stress, and it is only intensified. The best way to handle stress is the way we handle all uninvited events during meditation, like thoughts. Just notice that the stress exists, and welcome it (as a friend!). See it clearly, where it comes from, and what it does to you. Then, let it go, and concentrate on the here and now again. Once you are able to do this, you will feel the level of stress diminish immediately. This may sound difficult or even impossible, but your meditation practice will help you to do this more and more easily over time.