Stress Management through Emotion Control

Acceptance, Appreciation and Improvement.

The first thing to understand is, that we cannot fight a negative emotion. What we can do however, is to accept it as an integral part of ourselves, appreciate it by understanding why it is here? And where does it come from? And then improve upon our selection of emotions in dealing with the challenges of life. We can consciously replace a negative emotion with a positive one. We cannot get rid of an emotion (positive or negative) altogether from our psych. If we try to fight our natural reactions, the best we can do is to suppress them for some time, and suppression only makes them stronger and more destructive.

A not so good side effect of our social conditioning is, that we learn to dislike some parts of ourselves. A lot of emotions that we generate are socially unacceptable, and their expression is discouraged by the society. Which is not entirely unreasonable, as the society must follow certain rules to function as a successful system. What causes conflict however, is our desire to be accepted by the society in our entirety, without any reservation. We are emotionally so deeply involved in our social interactions, that we tend to forget that the society, like traffic rules, is an arrangement for everyone’s mutual benefit and should be dealt with as such. We try to test every emotion that we produce on a social scale and learn to suppress the ones that are not beneficial in furthering our position in the society. What we could do instead is learn to appreciate every emotion that we generate and although use only the positive ones while interacting with other people, but also appreciate the ones that are not so useful for social purpose. They are also an important part of us, whether socially beneficial or not. Condemning them creates an internal conflict and causes a lot of emotional suppression, which turns us in to a coiled spring, ready to explode in a weak moment. Internal conflict cripples us and creates complexes of inadequacy. Stress, anger, aggression, fear are all emotions that are not beneficial to a social cause, and although these are commonplace, they are discouraged in social interactions. They come from the same place as the positive and acceptable emotions do but are not conducive to social harmony and can disrupt peace among the members of society.  

These not so useful emotions are born out of the instincts that we inherit from our ancestors and their collective experiences, through our genes. The survival instinct helped them to stay alive when they were surrounded by an unfavourable environment. They used a lot of aggression and violence to ward off predators that were higher than them in the food chain. However, our situation has changed since then, we are now at the pole position in the food chain and we do not need the service of these instincts anymore. But evolution is a continuous process, we can not get rid of old instincts at will. What we can do however is, understand and appreciate the reason of their existence and with this understanding make a conscious choice to stop using them, because they are not suitable for us and our environment anymore. We can slowly update our mind’s choice of emotions to deal with our environment. Just suppressing them or condemning them will not help, by doing so they become stronger and seek an exit. (Understanding ‘Self’)

This ‘updating’ can be done by retraining our mind. Meditation can help us with this. We need to bring our attention to ourselves consciously and learn about how we interact with our environment. We need to understand what our default behaviour is, when we face a challenge? What knowledge we are born with? We need to learn about our social conditioning, and we need to learn about our mind’s limitation when faced with an information overload. We need to know how all these things influence our behaviour, and whether it’s the most efficient, positive and beneficial behaviour? We need to identify the negative emotions that we generate when things don’t go as planned, and we need to associate all these emotions to their root cause. By doing so we become conscious of the functioning of our inner self and become self-aware. Self-awareness is what makes emotional control possible. You can not decide whether something is harmful or beneficial to you, until you can see things with unbiased objectivity.

The first step towards achieving this is to try to observe your emotions and their roots. If you are feeling stressed one day, try to find out the real reason behind it. Do you feel threatened that someone is undermining your position in your group or are you feeling the need to do something that you know will strengthen your position in your group. If you are feeling sad and depressed one day, is it that someone has criticised you in some way or rejected your idea about something and by doing so, they have pushed you to the periphery of your group and made you vulnerable. If you feel angry, are you using anger as a mean to dominate the person you are competing with to move up in the hierarchy or do you feel threatened because you are getting tired and weaker off being on guard constantly. If you feel the need to manipulate somebody or gossip about someone, are you trying to pull them down from their strong position and replace them with yourself as soon as you can. If you are feeling happy one day, is it because you believe that you are strong and dominating and placed in the centre of your group, people around you admire you and appreciate you. Do you feel that you are safe from harm because you are surrounded by a strong group that is willing to sacrifice itself for you?

Once you start seeing the roots of your emotions, the first thing you realise is that you are investing yourself into a mechanism that might be unnecessary for your survival in the present day. You start to see that the pain and pleasure comes from the same place, depending upon whether you believe you are safe or not. The truth however, is we are all a living organism with an expiry date, and if we do not kill each other before that date, our need for safety is irrelevant. This group system that helped us survive once, is pushing us to extinction now. With no real danger or predators around we have turned into predators ourselves to fight each other off, to serve the instinct our ancestors have developed.

We need to update our instincts, to keep us from harming each other. We need to update our goals. Happiness is a mark of individuality and emotional self-sufficiency. We do not need to indulge in a group mechanism to attain happiness. Happiness is a state of mind that comes from inside us, and when we break free from our dependency on the group system, it happens quite easily. When we become emotionally self-sufficient and do not need others to feel cared for and safe, when we understand, appreciate and improve upon our inheritance, that is when we are truly free.

Sitting meditation (Understanding ‘Meditation’ )can be used as a starting point to develop self-awareness, to see our inner most self and to see why we want, what we want and if it is not for our inherited instincts, would we still want the same things? Once we have achieved self-awareness during sitting meditation we can extend it to the rest of the day, aiming at living consciously all the time eventually. Once we have achieved living consciously we can slowly start controlling our emotions and thoughts at will. Then our happiness is in our hands irrespective of our environment and external conditions. We can choose the emotions that are good for us and keep the ones that are not so good on a mental shelf, as artefacts from our past. All emotions become a tool in our tool box, ready to serve us. We can achieve mastery over ourselves and over our mind if we turn our attention towards ourselves. Our inherited fears and phobias do not torment us anymore. We can decide when to shut up our minds and go to sleep. We can decide not to get stressed in a difficult situation. We can decide not to be affected by negativity and competition around us.

This takes lots of hard work and commitment but with patience it is achievable and is worth investing your time and energy into.

 

 

 

 

Understanding ‘Meditation’

,Meditation is to ‘focus upon something over a period’. You can literally meditate upon anything: working in your office, driving your car, eating food, walking, sitting. Wherever and whenever you are using focused thinking over a period, you are meditating. We can meditate consciously or unconsciously. It’s a function of the mind that helps us to get by through everyday life situations and demands. You can meditate on positive and negative aspects of life. Stress, is also a kind of meditation that helps us to resolve issues with focused thinking. The only problem with stress though is that it has a very negative affect on our body and mind and it is a very addictive in nature. Other than that, it is also not a very efficient way to deal with life’s challenges. It impairs our judgement and keeps us from looking at the big picture. It’s a very negative and destructive habit that has long lasting adverse effects on us.

The meditation that we are discussing today is ‘focused self-observation’. To focus on observing our body, thoughts and emotions followed by focusing on the observation itself. First, we need to bring our focus from outside world to inside our body, and then with practice and some patience we can learn to maintain that focus over a period. Just to clarify, we are not only focusing on our body, thoughts and emotions, but also focusing on observing our body, thoughts and emotions without being involved with them: Like a spectator. By doing this we are hoping to see ourselves in an unbiased and rational light, to clearly see what is right and beneficial for us and what is not, we must become our own unbiased and non-judgemental audience. Once you can see what is harming you (and stress is definitely harming you), it becomes very easy to take the right decisions and not to use stress as our mind’s automatic response to deal with a difficult situation anymore. It becomes easy, to break the vicious cycle of wrong choices. Once we can achieve unbiased self-observation, we can use it to help generate positive thoughts and emotions. We can learn to be watchful of stress, negativity and depression. We can stop the chain of negative emotions and replace them with positive ones at will. For once we can truly be in control of ourselves. Being in control of oneself, really is the only kind of viable control. Anything that depends upon someone else or on an external situation can never be truly in your control. Any amount of investment in ‘another’ can never guarantee to yield a good return. Control of ourselves, and of our reactions to our environment is the only learned behaviour that can guarantee the outcome of a happy, stress-free life. Becoming emotionally self-sufficient is what you achieve through ‘Meditation’. If you are in charge of your own happiness irrespective of your environment no one can ever take it away. People can only take away what they give you. They can’t take away what you have created yourself.

Inner happiness can be cultivated by choosing the right emotional state of mind, and the right emotional state of mind can be achieved by choosing the right emotions with the help of self-observation and self-awareness.

To develop self-awareness, one needs consistent effort and hard work.  First, we will need to identify the bad mental habits. Then with the help of meditation we can replace them with the good ones. For example, just going to the gym and working out is not enough to develop good health and physique. We also need to change our food habits and ensure quality recovery time for the muscles. It’s an all-inclusive life style change. There is no magical shortcut to improve our mental wellbeing. It’s a process that changes and effects all areas of our life. Our mind is the centre of everything and the smallest change here, will have a much wider impact than we can anticipate. We are hoping to make really big changes at the very fundamental level of our being, including a conscious update of our epigenetic inheritance. It’s a big overhaul. It will need a huge amount of consistent effort and some serious commitment.

Physical meditation will only take about fifty minutes a day: 25 minutes in the morning and 25 minutes in the evening. Contemplation however fills rest of the day. Associating all our thoughts and emotions to their epigenetic roots, to our learned behaviour, and to our social conditioning. Realising our minds limitations through self-observation and self-awareness is an ongoing process. It needs to be done consciously and repeatedly to develop an ‘understanding’ of why we do what we do. Consistent contemplation will help us make effects of physical meditation permanent. We have acquired the bad habit of ‘Stress’ through years of practice, and it has now become a part of our automatically generated response system. It will take, at least a few months to give up this bad habit through conscious decision making and to re-train our mind, to acquire a good habit of generating positive emotions to deal with the environmental challenges. Living consciously and being self-aware is a full-time job.

If this bothers you, and you feel unprepared to invest so much time and effort towards this, stress probably is not such a big issue for you after all. You can carry on as you were, but with the knowledge that although stress is a bad habit, but it’s a choice you made, and you can live with it. It’s a bit like smoking, we all know its not good for us, but people who smoke make a choice to keep doing it and expect to bear the ill effects it may have on their health at some point of time. Whichever course we take bear one thing in mind that: we are responsible for our own habits, good or bad and to make a change we must work on ourselves. No amount of outside help can change what is coming from inside.

If you still think that stress is an issue for you, and it is affecting your potential to achieve happiness and keeping you from living a healthy and content life, then read on.

Meditation that I recommend has two main parts:

1.    Sitting Meditation

2.    Contemplation

Sitting meditation: What comes to mind when we think about this kind of meditation is the Buddha, sitting in the lotus pose with his eyes half shut, and with an expression of eternal peace on his face, expressing something from beyond.

Every religion has a few images that depict this kind of ideal. What we are learning however has nothing to do with any religion or any religious practice or imagery. It is just to go on an inward journey, to find ourselves, and be able to move ourselves in a positive direction to deal with stress.

The first thing to understand about sitting meditation is, that we need to induce a ‘Calm and Alert’ state of mind. This, although sounds very easy, but is not something that comes to us naturally. Normally we are either ‘calm and relaxed’ or ‘anxious and alert’. ‘Calm and alert’ is not a combination that our social conditioning teaches us, or we learn as we grow up. Our mind is not familiar with ‘Calm and Alert’. We need to teach this to ourselves, through regular practice, and this is where ‘Yoga’ comes to our rescue. One of the eight branches of Ashtanga Yoga is ‘Pranayama’. which in simple English means ‘Breath Control’. Yogis have realised this very early on, that our ‘state of mind’ at any given time influences our breathing. When we are calm we breathe in a certain way, when we are angry we breathe in a different way. Most emotions have a corresponding breathing pattern. What’s more interesting is that vice-versa is also true. If we can control our breathing, and breathe in a certain way, we can generate the corresponding emotion. Yoga has experimented with different breathing exercises and used these exercises to create certain states of mind that are helpful in achieving certain goals.

One of these pranayama’s is called ‘Anulom-Vilom’ or alternative nostril breathing. Which is extremely effective in generating a ‘Calm-Alert’ state of mind. This is the first step towards the meditation I recommend and teach. This is a preparatory step. With the help of Anulom-Vilom we can induce a calm and alert state of mind which is very helpful in self-observation and self-awareness training.

Anulom-Vilom: There are many videos on ‘How to do Anulom-Vilom’ or ‘Alternative nostril breathing’ on YouTube, and there are many variations of this breathing exercise. In simple words, it’s breathing in, through one nostril while blocking the other nostril with a finger or a thumb, holding your breath for a few seconds and breathing out through the nostril that was blocked so far by realising the finger/thumb. Next is breathing in through the nostril we just breathed out from while blocking the other nostril, holding your breath for few seconds and breathing out from the blocked nostril by releasing finger/thumb.  This is one cycle. There are recommended ratios of time periods of breathing in, holding and breathing out. The easiest and most effective one for this purpose is 2:4:3. That is breathe in to the count of 4 seconds, hold your breath for 8 seconds and breathe out to the count of 6 seconds. Doing this for 10 minutes while trying to keep your focus on breathing calms down the mind without making it sleepy or lazy. One requirement for Anulom-Vilom however is a good sitting posture with a straight back. Purists swear by a full-lotus pose, most Yogis are happy with a half lotus pose. But for those of us who find it difficult to sit on the floor, we can do it sitting on a chair as well. If the back is straight, and we can hold this posture for 25 minutes, it works quite well. The routine should include 10 minutes for breathing exercise, followed by 10 minutes of ‘Body-Scans’ exercise and 5 minutes of self-observation.

Body Scans: ‘Vipassana’ or ‘Insight Meditation’ (Burmese Buddhism) is a process in which you direct your focus through your body in a certain sequence. This is mostly a guided meditation but can also be done with self-guidance. It includes scanning your body from inside by moving your focus from the head to the stomach then back to head. With some practice this scanning canbe turned into an automatic movement that can be observed consciously. For most people this happens within a few weeks but can take longer. Once you can observe your focus moving up and down your body without effort, you have split your consciousness into two, and one part is observing the other. This observation process can then be extended to observing your thoughts and emotions. By observing our thoughts and emotions we are hoping to reach a thought-emotion neutral state to re-set our mind’s thought-emotion function. Once we have achieved that, the next thing to learn is to train our mind to generate positive emotions and by repetition learn a new ‘good’ habit so that the next time we face a difficult situation, we try to resolve it without getting stressed, and with a stable and positive state of mind.

The process of body scan follows straight after Anulom-Vilom and starts with moving your focus to the inside of your head. Then you suggest yourself to relax your head and ease out any stress or tension that you feel in this area. For example, to ease a creased forehead or tensed eyebrows, etc. Then you move your attention to your jaws and suggest yourself to relax your jaws. Follow the same procedure for shoulders, chest and stomach and then do this in the reverse order- from the stomach to the head.

After a few weeks of doing this, you can skip the ‘suggestion of relaxation’ part, as relaxing becomes automatic and happens on its own. In addition to this, the movement of focus needs to be one continuous movement without any breaks. Once this is achieved, you can then take a jump from being a part of the process to being an observer of the process as the ‘Movement of the Focus’ doesn’t require any effort and starts to happen on its own. So, you can sit back and watch it like a spectator. You then extend the ‘watching’ or ‘observation’ to your thoughts and emotions. Once you get used to watching your body, thoughts and emotions as one unit in their entirety, you can extend this practice from sitting meditation to the rest of the day as well.

It’s a long process and becomes a little easier when done under the guidance of a teacher but can be successfully achieved on your own too. For example, we get faster and better results if we follow a fitness instructor in a gym, but it’s not mandatory.

Just to re-cap, the sitting meditation involves performing Anulom-Vilom (alternative nostril breathing) for 10 minutes, followed by Body Scans for 10 minutes and observing your thoughts and emotions without being involved in them for 5 minutes. It’s a 25 minutes routine that is done twice a day. Once in the morning and once in the evening (at least 2 hours before bed time).

In my next post ‘Understanding Self-awareness’ I will write about the second part of meditation that is contemplation.

 

 

 

 

Understanding ‘Self awareness’

Mind has a very important function, called observation, and this function is mostly used for external objects or experiences. However, this function can be turned towards ‘Self’ and with right training and practice, self-awareness can be developed. The self-awareness we are talking about here, is not to be confused with being aware of one’s behaviour towards others or how we see ourselves in relation to our environment. This is not a psychological concept but a physical reality. This is being aware of your own body, its minutest sensations, your thoughts and emotions without being involved with them. This is being able to watch oneself objectively. Being one’s own spectator. This self-awareness is not developed through mind’s ‘thinking’ function, it’s being aware of the thoughts themselves. It’s not developed through feelings either, its watching our feelings and emotions objectively without being involved. Its watching our self as if we are watching someone else, only a bit deeper and from inside.

Developing self-awareness/ self-observation, is what all meditations teach. Whether you call it mindfulness or emptying the mind, thoughtlessness or watching your thoughts, the end-point is same. Which is being in control of your thoughts and emotions by being an uninvolved watcher of your mind. It not only gives your mind a break and a huge relief from constant thinking but also allows you to control and alter your reactions to your situation/ environment without any mental or emotional strain. Although when a meditation is successful, being able to slow down or completely stop the thinking process at will is the first thing that happens, and it’s a big relief as you feel rested and at peace, it’s a very joyful experience but this is not the end goal (you can achieve this state with the help of alcohol and drugs, that are followed by very harmful physical affects that are always temporary), goal here, is to learn to be in control of your thoughts and emotions and alter them at will to get a positive and life supporting outcome. This can only be achieved by distancing a part of your mind from the rest of it and watching yourself through the ‘distanced’ part objectively, without being involved. It’s impossible to see reason or behave rationally when you yourself are the one who is generating stress and negative emotions. Trying to deal with stress by attempting to control external factors through negative behaviour i.e. anger, anxiety, depression, etc. is like sleep walking and trying to pass through a wall, and banging your head against it, hurting yourself in the process. Although it’s possible to find the door even with your eyes closed occasionally by pure chance and coincidence but to do it every single time you have to open your eyes. You must learn to be aware of yourself, then only you can develop an unbiased insight in to what is right for you and what is not. Then only, you can decide how to deal with your problems without getting stressed. You can learn to replace the negative emotions generated (because of our social conditioning, epigenetic inheritance and mind’s limitations) to deal with stress, with the positive ones. It is possible to re-train oneself to deal with life situations without being stress and without any external help. We can learn to behave in a way that is not destructive for us when we are faced with a difficult situation.

There are many ways to develop self-awareness/ self-observation through meditation. I will write about an example that has worked for me and a few others in my next post.

Understanding ‘Mind’

Mind is our tool of survival. It’s sole purpose is to keep us alive. Human evolution happened through a lot of struggles, threats, and dangers. Where we are today, we have reached through a long road paved with predatory threats and destructive natural forces which were completely out of our control and a desire to have absolute control over our surroundings has always inspired our mind to work towards attaining it. Lack of control was directly associated with danger to life for us or members of our group. Humanity has seen so much hardship and death that our collective psyche is filled with fear and distrust towards anything that is unknown, anything we have no experience of.

The Mind has two main functions:

1. Being alert to be on guard constantly.

2. To collect information about our surroundings to use it in our favour against potential danger.

The mind is where information about good and bad is stored, this is where lifesaving information is collated, analysed and processed. This is where  decisions of life and death are made. This is where all kind of memories are stored, and this is also where the emotions and stress are generated.

Its important to understand how the mind functions and what are its limitations.

Being alert: The Mind has always been at the service of survival. It has always been on guard against everything and anything that could present a danger to us, real or imaginary. It keeps working even when we sleep, half of our brain keeps awake and enable us to jump and flee at a moment notice in case we are under attack, when we are in a new environment. Generally, the degree of mind’s alertness depends on our position in our group’s hierarchy. That is, if we are on the periphery or low down in social hierarchy, and  unsure of our status in our relationships with our group members. We feel more insecure and remain on high alert, as at periphery we are more vulnerable to outside attacks. If we are at the centre of our group, higher up in social hierarchy and well established in our relations we feel secure and need to be a little less alert. Only danger we feel when we are in a high position is from the competition from other members of group, which is minimal and is regulated by social rules i.e. a queue system (older you get, higher your position will be). It is minds inherent desire to be alert constantly regardless of what our position is in a group, either to guard against inter-group competition or to guard against intra-group threats. This constant guarding tires us every once in a while and the mind takes a break from it’s guarding function. It is this time of break, when people around us get their chance to be in-charge and overtake us to acquire a higher position. When we recover from our fatigue, we wait for them to get tired so we can regain our position. This process keeps repeating, and causes a lot of stress to our sub-conscious.

Information gathering: From very early on, the human mind has realised that knowledge of our surroundings is very important for a successful survival. Our ancestors, living in small tribes in big forests needed to know which direction the predators come from, where can they find food and water, which fruits are poisonous, which parts of the river are dangerous, where lies the danger of floods and fire etc.

The more we knew, the better our chances of survival were. Knowledge literally meant life. And the unknown was the cause of fear. Learning from this experience mind was on a constant look out for more and more information about our surrounding. If there was information available, the mind would get anxious and not rest until it had that information. We still carry and subconsciously use this function of mind. However, the amount of information that is available now a day is beyond mind’s capability to comprehend. This information overload causes anxiety. The mind thinks that we are still in danger until we possess all the information that is available, but with the internet at our finger tips, the amount of information available is almost limitless. Our mind can never match up the memory requirement to store everything that is out there, or have the analytical ability to process it all. Hence, a never-ending anxiety born out of insecurity of not knowing our environment fully is created. Our ‘epigenetic inheritance’ motivates us to collect more and more information of our surroundings, but our mind has limited storage and cannot cope with the amount of information that technology has provided us, and this causes us non-stop stress.

We have to re-train our mind to limit the amount of information incoming, without feeling anxious about the information that is available.

 

 

 

 

Understanding ‘Happiness’

So what does ‘understanding happiness’ has anything to do with stress management? Well! The way it works with human mind, is that you can not just take one emotion out and leave a blank space behind. That blank space has to be filled by another counter acting and hopefully positive emotion. A better way to put it is that, we can not get rid of a negative emotion (as it is part of our being), we can only replace it with a positive one. That is why Stress, Self, Happiness they are all part of one big jigsaw puzzle. Just wait for a while and read on. In time everything will fall in place and will start making sense.

What we normally believe to be happiness, is in reality not happiness  but ‘Fun’. Fun and happiness are two different kinds of emotions, although they are mostly confused to be same and are closely related but they are not the same, and its very important to understand the difference very clearly. For most people ‘Fun’ is happiness and their whole journey is to achieve and maintain a state of ‘fun’, which not only is very tiring but also virtually impossible to maintain. 

Fun is an extreme, a bright and short lived hyper state of mind. It is full of excitement, joy and laughter. However, It is always short lived and is a ‘mental high’ that is always followed by a ‘low’.

Happiness on the other hand is a calm contentment. It’s a positive, life supporting and self-enhancing state of mind and It can be long lasting. There isn’t much excitement in happiness but there is an inner assurance that radiates through one’s actions and speech.

Fun is always very addictive in nature, as it is born out of a chemical release in our brains (i.e. adrenalin, serotonin, dopamine etc.). It’s also mostly generated by external factors. For example going on a roller-coaster can be ‘fun’, a party or night out with friends can be fun. Getting drunk and doing silly things for laughter can also be fun. Fun can be achieved by means of money and some organisation or just by creating a situation with a possibility of ‘fun’ as an outcome. The downside is, since fun is generated out of a chemical release it also runs out soon as those chemicals in our brains run out, and a side effect of this is that it is always followed by a mild depression and leaves us emotionally (and sometimes physically) exhausted.

Happiness on the other hand is non-addictive, there are no peaks or turfs and it cannot be generated by external factors. It’s always cultivated from an inner assurance (contented survival instinct – more on this later). It is a very stable state of being. There are no extremes in happiness, good or bad. It truly is the ‘middle path’ as Buddha once said.

Fun though is there to be enjoyed, should not be made a goal. It can happen spontaneously when conditions are right.

Happiness however is to be developed with the right training and understanding and should be made a goal. It should be the background of everything we do in life. It should be our stable point of reference. The deciding force behind all our actions. It is worth investing our time and effort to achieve this calm and contented state of being as it is ‘the emotion’ that we need to cultivate to replace ‘Stress’ with.

In my next blog, I will write about ‘Understanding Mind’. As mind is the tool that we will use to help us achieve and maintain ‘happiness’. However, before we could do that, it was important to understand what happiness is ‘not’, and it certainly is not ‘fun’.

Understanding ‘Self’

In my last post I wrote about the fundamentals of stress, and the fact that although it is triggered by external factors, it is always generated inside us. Hence, if we need to do something about it (deal with it or control it), we need to go inside ourselves and train our mind to identify the source of stress and make a few changes there. Once it’s out and reaches the mind’s thought process, it turns itself into a self-feeding, vicious thought cycle and manifests itself into dark and negative emotions. Depression, anxiety, fears and phobias, melancholy or simply being sad and bitter, are all born out of stress. In its inflamed state it’s very difficult to deal with stress or calm yourself down to control it. It’s a bit like a viral infection, once your immunity is low and you are infected, it completes its cycle and takes its time to pass. Once stress has overtaken your thoughts and emotions there isn’t much you can do about it. It takes its own time to pass. This time of inflammation is different for different people. For some it takes hours for others it takes days. What we can do however, is train and prepare our mind in calmer times, when we are not stressed and improve our mental immunity to fight stress when it comes. Our emotions are  cyclic in nature, they follow a pattern. We start this cycle full of energy and good life supporting emotions followed by a lull of boredom; and then dipping down to negative, life negating state of mind. This is followed by recovery time and this  cycle repeats itself again. This goes on and on, with us sleep walking through life. We can make use of the good time to prepare for the upcoming turmoil.

 We can break this vicious cycle and avoid reaching the emotional inflammation with the right training and practice. This can be done with a conscious effort and hard work at the deepest level of your being, at the very source where stress is generated. I call it a mental workout. It’s very similar to working out in a gym for physical well-being; it requires the same kind of effort and consistency. Another similarity is that you get the benefits as long as you keep doing the work out, once you stop going to the gym your fitness levels fall.

We have to learn about ourselves and make an inward journey to reach the source, in order to get rid of this bad habit of stress. I called stress a ‘habit’ intentionally, we will see why but that’s later. For now, let’s meet ourselves.

We can divide our inner self into four parts:

Acquired knowledge
Epigenetic inheritance
Body’s own intelligence
Consciousness / Awareness

 Acquired knowledge is what we learn from our social conditioning, and from our interaction with the environment in which we live. This also includes the environmental challenges we face as we grow up.

 Epigenetic inheritance is the knowledge we get from the collective experiences of our ancestors, through our DNA. This is primarily what helped them with their survival in a hostile environment. It was their fears and phobias that kept them alive and their knowledge of various sources of nourishment. Humans realised at a very early stage in their evolution process that they have a better chance of survival if they lived in groups and even better if they are at the centre of their group. Rejection from their group meant certain death as they were quite low down in the food chain and acceptance by the group led us to safety and survival. The bigger the group, the better the chances of survival were, but that also meant tougher competition to reach the centre of the group and maintain that position. There are certain rules every group followed to keep its members in harmony and make the competition for pole position bearable. This was the origin of society.

We also considered the other groups a threat and dealt with them in the same way as we dealt with the predators. We still follow this one rule. In the absence of a real predator, we fight off other groups around us with same intensity and emotion. Some examples of modern day groups are family and friends, football clubs, countries, religions etc. We become part of these groups, and fight against real or imaginary enemies. The real threats our ancestors faced are either gone extinct or locked up in zoos now a day. However, the instincts we developed over thousands of years are still there and in the absence of real threats, we have developed imaginary ones to feed our instincts. It is these instincts that demand to cause violence in order to attain safety and further our chance of survival. For our early ancestor violence was a mean to either obtain food, or to obtain safety. They needed to hunt and kill to nourish themselves or fight and kill to keep themselves safe. Now a day we do not need to hunt or kill something or someone to feed ourselves or to stay alive, but our deepest self still carries these instincts through epigenetic inheritance. I will write about this in detail in a later post as this is a very important part of us that we need to understand, accept and appreciate if we take this journey inward to know ourselves better. 

Body’s own intelligence is body’s physical functions and processes: voluntary and involuntary. Blood flow in and out of our heart, muscle movements, sensory messages travelling down the nerves, thoughts and emotions generating in response to environmental challenges etc. comes under body’s own intelligence.

Awareness or consciousness is our mind’s function that allows us to observe our surroundings and make everyday decisions based on the information we get from this observation. It helps us to differentiate between right and wrong. That’s where we find most of our human qualities. It is the end result of our mental evolution so far. This function also has a potential to be aware of itself, and to be conscious of not only outside world but also what is happening inside us. This function can be developed with the right training and effort to gain control over our thoughts and emotions and most of the work to deal with stress happens with the help of this function.

 Most important thing to contemplate from this post is the idea of our epigenetic inheritance and how it influences our thinking process and generates stress in us to help us have a better chance of survival.

Understanding ‘Stress’

Stress is our natural and automatic mind-body response against real and perceived threats. Our body produces Adrenalin and Cortisol hormone to prepare itself for a ‘fight or flight response’ by creating a sense of heightened urgency, when we are fearful. In addition to this, we also generate chemicals in our brain that speed up the communication between neurons to deal with the matter at hand. This process although works well and helps us to deal with life’s challenges and what we see as threats. However, if repeated often it has devastating effects on our body and mind. Modern life’s competitions, pressures and emotional insecurities keep our mind into an overdrive of fear and anxiety that gives us constant stress. For example: The fear of not finishing a job in time, the fear of failure, the fear of being late and missing something of value, stage fear, the fear of disappointing someone who is important to us, etc. All these fears induce stressors (Adrenalin and Cortisol), and once we step on this treadmill there is no stopping or slowing down. Stress becomes our primary and only response to deal with any problem, big or small, whether it is worth getting stressed for or not. Sooner or later we get tired and weary of the overdose of these stressors and chemicals, but find ourselves unable to stop, as this tiredness induces further fear and stresses us further, to deal with this fear. It demands and uses more and more of our energy and time to solve the most trivial of issues. It gives an impression of helping you solve your problems. But, in reality, it doesn’t. You perform far better when you are free of stress. Most of us have experienced stress in one form or the other. It has become a part of our daily life. Some people get affected by it more than others. Stress happens in proportion to an individual’s degree of insecurity and fear. For some it manifests through physical or mental illnesses, others just end up with sleeplessness and anxiety. Whichever way you look at it, it is more harmful than it is useful. Yet we find ourselves defenceless against it. The internet is full of studies, trials and scientific research on how it causes numerous diseases.

However, experiencing stress does not enable us to understand what stress really is, what the root cause of stress is, and it definitely does not prepare us to deal with it when it strikes. Our educational curriculum do not include its study, which is surprising considering the amount of people that get affected by it, and the immense suffering it causes. Ideally, we all should be trained at an early age to handle stress so that we are better prepared when we enter adulthood.

Although it is triggered by external factors, stress almost always comes from inside us. It is born out of our survival instinct. Hence, we have to reach our inner selves to understand this root cause and make a few changes to keep it under control. External factors are normally beyond our control. For example- someone has upset us by their words or actions, someone has disagreed with us or rejected our ideas, sometimes it’s the depressing weather, sometimes it is our physically tired and sensitive state, sometimes we feel uncared for or neglected. Whatever the reason when another is involved we have limited control over things. The only place where we can exercise true control is on our own mind and with the help of this control, we can train our mind to respond to life’s challenges without being stressed. With the right training and some practice, we can control our reactions and emotions.

To achieve this, first we need to understand ourselves, and our epigenetic inheritance. We need to understand what motivates us to behave in the way we do and what causes stress. Then with the help of right training we can learn to control our survival instinct and its ill effects. In my next post I will write about understanding ‘Self’, which will help us to understand ‘Stress’ better.