Stress is a choice that takes lots of practice

We went into nature with Older Child all day yesterday. We woke up and hit the road long before sunrise.

We birded in a national forest all morning. Birds were scarce; trees were abundant. We saw not a single person or other vehicle all morning on the forest roads. We drove with the windows open despite temperatures below freezing.

We relaxed some. Older Child’s acceptance, positive attitude, and love were the perfect recipe for unburdening. The lack of other people’s energy and the inclusion of nurturing energy from the 3 million-acre forest (that number is not a typo!) contributed.

Then we looked in the big lake for visiting sea ducks and found one.

Then we drove around looking for owls. We didn’t find any. We didn’t mind. It wasn’t the finding that was important to us.

When we got home, stress greeted us. We have trouble not personalizing other’s stress. So we personalized it and tensed up almost right away.

The tensing up allowed us to notice we had experienced less stress during the day.

We resisted the stress, which intensified it and creates suffering. We noticed this and tried to remember that everything is impermanent: the relaxing day in nature was over but it did happen; the stress of right now was real but would also end if we let it.

We tend to assume stress is the permanent default for our life. We cage it, examine it, hold it close. We make it the default somehow.

Why would we choose stress?

Stress is familiar

For us, the pain we know is often preferable to the fluctuations and unpredictability of emotional states.

There is no disappointment if/when stress ends

When pleasure ends, there can be resistance or mourning. This is less often the case for us when stress ends. We can sometimes lean into the pleasure of birdwatching or into sexual intimacy with Spouse. These are our two primary sources of pleasure.

We are “in charge” of our stress; therefore, we cannot be a victim of other’s actions

Others did contribute directly to our stress, when we were younger and did not know how to choose to be safe. Trauma was stressful both when it occurred and after and still is stressful (the S of PTSD).

So if we choose stress now, then we won’t blame those involved in our trauma or those we live with whom we might blame for our stress. That has led to anger, and we used to yell at our loved ones.

In reality, current stressors don’t “cause” stress; they are like clothes hangers that are familiar places we used to hang our clothes so that now we put our clothes on them whenever we see them, and then walk around naked (metaphorically).

The interpretations of other’s actions are in our brain. Cognitive distortions live—thrive—there. So when we go to blaming mind, and start to get angry at people, we work around it by choosing stress or thinking we deserve stress or are stress itself.

Other ways to be have to exist. Getting to them is the challenge of a lifetime.

These strategies are well ingrained. Choosing anything else is hard. Still, we set the circumstances for less stress with Older Child yesterday and maybe can make such choices again.

It’s harder to choose less stressful options at home because other people are always here. This is where we must practice then since this is where 99% of our life happens now.

We will try to check in with ourself—me’s are often getting our attention by ringing our ears. Being attentive to our needs may help us notice what is and help us make choices that are less stressful.

To change to less stress, we will have to convince enough people inside that choosing stress is not the safe default we think it is. This is hard.

We also know we have to keep it simple. There are so many rules and so many things to work on to try to improve our quality of life that we get overwhelmed and discouraged easily. Progress is hard to see while evidence of suffering abounds. We are pessimistic by habit.

So noticing things in the present may have to suffice for now. It is a first step to making other choices.

6 thoughts on “Stress is a choice that takes lots of practice

  1. I find it very hopeful that you were able to find that place of greater ease with Older Child while birding. It shows that an alternative to stress is available, even if only some of the time. ❤️❤️❤️ 🦆🦆🦆🦉🦉🦉 – That reminds me, I’ve never managed to see an owl near where I live, but once in a while I hear a great horned owl hooting at night.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I liked reading this post, your thoughts are so clear and easy to follow here, it’s really helpful. Love it that you talk about how you used to yell, and it sounds like you found a way to stop doing that? That’s really hard to do, so fair play to you for that! Do you think whatever it is that helped you put yelling down is also what you use to put some of that stress down? Love it that you find so much comfort in nature too, I can totally relate to that as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe due to abuse endured in childhood, we, by habit, read (soak up) the energy of others to see if we’re safe. Or, we were gaslit so long that we don’t trust us to feel our own feelings. Either way, when we are away from people, we don’t have their flood of energy in us—and we can relax. Before Covid, we had lots of alone time to experience this. Now, we don’t. So this was a treat!

      We stopped yelling probably from shame and desire to stop hurting others. The impulse to yell is from childhood sexual abuse—a trick played on us that made us think people will do whatever we want or say. Challenging impulse to overcome still. Still trying!

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Meets our needs to be seen and be connected without energy flood!


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