The Only 3 Questions You Need To Ask Yourself The Next Time You're Stressed Out
All emotions have their reason for being, their usefulness, and their place. We need emotions—they are what give our lives color and spice, even the "negative" ones.
Repressing emotions is never a good answer. Even if they don't make sense, you need to give them the space to be expressed. If the moment you feel them is not a proper moment to express them, take time to recognize them in your daily self-awareness exercise and channel them through appropriate means.
Anger, fear, and sadness are, for me, the most acutely felt and energy draining, but they are easy to identify and have very specific outlets. For example, anger makes you want to scream and hit something. Sadness makes you cry, so cry, sob, and vent all of it out. Fear is a red flag for danger, and danger has to be tended to. It either paralyzes you or makes you want to run or fight.
Emotions are like the waves in the sea.
Stress, anxiety, and worry tend to be less easily identifiable, and they linger within you longer. It is more difficult to do something about these emotions because they usually don't relate to anything specific. They are mental constructions of future catastrophic possibilities.
The human mind evolved to construct possible scenarios. It is part of the limbic brain, one of the most primitive parts of our inner computer. Humankind survived the beginning of history thanks to this capability. We became the only animal that developed imagination, the ability to construct mental images of various possibilities, and then to prepare for them. These became our weapons in a world filled with predators and dangers.
Today, however, this ability fills us with stress and anxiety. We tend, as a defense mechanism, to think the worst of any situation. Back when this situation was a saber-toothed tiger hunting us, this innate skill was immediate and lifesaving. But these days, most threats are not immediate and impending; they are possibilities that rarely happen. The brain doesn't know there is no tiger lurking in the dark, and it sends the signal to produce all the chemicals to fight off the attack or run for your life. But the threat doesn't materialize and you don't run or fight burning the adrenaline, so the chemicals stay in your body. Over time, they accumulate, causing stress and anxiety.
Sometimes we don't even know what is causing our stress; a multitude of worries, negative thoughts, and horrible scenarios assail us. Your brain doesn't know the difference between a real threat and your imagination. So I have come up with a system to help you deal with them.
The next time you are filled with anxiety, stress, or worry, ask yourself these questions:
1. What is the worst that can happen?
2. What can I do about it at this time?
3. What am I actually afraid of?
Emotions are like waves in the sea—they come crashing upon you, overtaking you completely, and then they recede. Let them. Emotions are only damaging to you when you try to control them or suppress them. If you are feeling sad, be sad, very excruciatingly sad; cry it out and let it recede. You can only keep feeling the emotion when you feed it. Watch how you feed your emotions with your thoughts. When you stop the thought, the feeling will quickly run its course.
This is adapted from an excerpt of my new book, Living With Lupus: Befriending The Wolf.