Stress—I think we all will agree that this is the word we use today to describe the physical, mental, and emotional strain we feel when there is a lot to do and constant changes are happening all around us and in our lives and in the world at large. Dr. Hans Selye (1907–1982), who is known as the “Father” of stress research, spent a good deal of his life studying this phenomenon. So when he said, “Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one,” he really knew what he was talking about!
Have you noticed that when you are stressed, your muscles tense up, you might feel short of breath, and you get that nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach? This is your body’s way of telling you, “Slow down, and take a deep breath.” That’s the space you need to see things from a different perspective. Of course slowing down sounds contrary to what we really want to do: Speed up and get everything done or fix it all!
Unfortunately, stepping into overdrive is just not going to turn the stress into a positive one. Resolving one source of stress will not comfort us for very long, since there will always be another one. We simply cannot keep going full speed without a break. We know this to be true because we have all tried it without success, right? If this approach worked, I would say keep doing what you’re doing. But this just makes us feel even more stressed. It can even lead to health issues, or we might just collapse in frustration and say, “What’s the use and sense of it all?”
This is exactly why it has become my life’s work to help all beings see how important, how incredibly necessary, it is to meditate—to listen to our bodies when they ask us to “take a breather.” Meditating on a regular basis can help relieve the symptoms of tension, stomach upset, and shallow breath, while calming our minds and guiding us to our inner source of comfort and consolation. We will also begin to notice that not all the stress we experience is negative.
We can enjoy the changes taking place in our lives and rise to the challenges that are presented to us . . . “with the right attitude,” as Dr. Selye says. So, what is the right attitude? I think we can turn to the Buddha for this answer, because “right attitude” is actually one of the steps of the Eightfold Path. According to Buddhist teachings, “right attitude” is not harboring anger or greed.
When we look at the things we do and experience through a lens of love and generosity rather than anger or greed, we can really put the stress we are feeling in perspective. Do the things we are doing and experiencing align with the greater good, with our life’s mission? If not, maybe we can cross them off our to-do list. If so, approaching them with this inner knowing can ease the burden we might otherwise feel. I think this is what is meant by turning negative stress into a more positive one.
So next time you are feeling stressed to the maximum, ask yourself this question: “Is what I am feeling real?” If the answer is yes, ask yourself, “Is what I am doing taking me closer to leading the life I wish to live?” That’s something to think about, don’t you agree? I would love to hear your thoughts on stress. Do you think it is possible to turn “negative” stress into a “positive” one?