Long-term stress is unnatural. Stress is supposed to get us ready to act in moments of danger, not be a part of our lives for long periods of time. When our ancestors were hunters and gatherers, and they confronted danger, they experienced stress. When they were facing a dangerous situation—like hunting in a new forest—their organism would get ready to fight or run:
- Their pupils would dilate to see every detail
- Their heart would beat fast -pumping blood and oxygen to get them ready to fight or run away.
- Their blood vessels would constrict —in order to reduce bleeding if they were wounded.
In other words, they would be ready to engage in an action that would save their lives.
However, as soon as the hunt was over, or they got eaten, this physical and mental tension, which we call stress, would end.
But that is no longer how it works. In the past 30 thousand years the jungle where we live and “hunt” has changed. Today we live and hunt in a concrete jungle, and the threats to our survival in this modern jungle are not predators of the animal kind —at least not four legged animals. Today the threats to our survival can take the form of non-physical dangers like:
- Fear of unemployment: which represents the threat of losing the ability to pay for our shelter, food, and clothing.
- Fear of losing social status: which puts us in a weakened position to compete with our higher-status peers for attractive partners, the best jobs, career opportunities, and the best caves i.e. homes and condos in prime locations.
- Fear of rejection: which can lead to not being accepted by the other humans of our family, clan, or tribe: which can result in losing mates to love and procreate with, as well as the loss of companions that help us hunt, i.e. find jobs, make connections, give us shelter in hard times, and help protect us from enemies.
When our organisms sense these threats to our survival it gets ready to fight, or run, as it did for our ancestors. But, how do you fight an insecure job? The demands placed on us —by ourselves or by others—to gain status and respect; the pressure to excel at whatever we do, the societal press to become rich, powerful, or famous? How do we fight, or run away, from the threat of not being liked, approved of, or accepted?
We can’t physically fight these threats, and we can’t run from them either. As a result we are stuck in our ready-to-fight-or-run mode; without anything physical to fight or run away from. We get trapped in our physical and mental sense of emergency—experiencing on-going stress. And, the result of this on-going stress results in harmful mental and physical repercussions like:
- Unhealthy weight gain or loss
- Inability to focus
- Impairment of the sensory systems
So what do we do?
Many people respond to these threats by reaching out to alcohol and drugs, legal or illegal, to get short-term relief from the symptoms of stress. In our culture this search for relief is demonstrated by the billions of dollars that are spent every year on alcohol and illegal drugs, and demonstrated by the millions of prescriptions— that are written by physicians as a treatment for stress—every year. But, these solutions come with a dangerous downside: the danger of addiction.
So,again, what do we do?
Here are 5 Proven strategies to eliminate your stress in a natural way:
Become a good hunter in this jungle.
A good hunter becomes very good at exploring their environment and detecting its dangers. A good hunter doesn’t walk into a dangerous part of the jungle carelessly. Neither should you. You have to develop the ability to be in touch with your reality: your feelings, thoughts, and environment as it exists in the present, not how it “should be”. On-going stress is caused by dwelling on regrets of the past, and fears of the future. Grounding yourself in the present allows you to escape this kind of stress, and allows you to find solutions to problems instead of dwelling in them.
Become the master of your life and your domain
There are many circumstances in your life that you can’t change; but if you are honest with yourself, you will find many that you can. You have to challenge underlying beliefs that make you vulnerable to feeling obligated to do things, or be with people that are toxic for you. Every time that you are faced with the prospect of encountering these situations, your organism will go into fight-or-run mode and you will be stressed. Its natural to avoid danger. You would not go into threatening situations in a real jungle. Why would you choose to suffer emotional harm in this one?
Become the master of your time
You are totally capable to avoid the stressful situation of being late. Practice good time management skills. There are many books, blogs, apps and many other tools that can help you. However, they all depend on the simple practice of allowing yourself extra time, being realistic, not overcommitting, and the following strategy: learning to say No.
Learn to say no
Allowing others to impose their wishes and demands on you is a sure formula for a stressful life. Others will always have needs that they believe are more important than yours. You are the only person in the world that is able to set limits on the expectations that others impose on you, and avoid being put in positions that cause you stress. For example: Don’t say yes to invitations without checking if you have ample time to attend them—including the time to travel to and from them. Don’t double-book yourself because you couldn’t say no to any of two separate requests; in the end you will disappoint everyone anyway. Challenge the beliefs that tell you that other people’s needs are more important than yours; they are not. And, if you feel obligated to say yes, because of fears of abandonment, incompetence, or disapproval—challenge them. The day has 24 hours, and you really can’t please all the people all the time.
Get out of debt
I know, easier said than done. But stay with me here. Look, however you look at it, if you are in debt, the reality is that you will be able to pay that debt only according to your resources. You can’t magically create money that you don’t have. So, center yourself, and accept the reality that you are in. After all the volumes written on how to get out of debt, the most centered, realistic, and wise advice that I ever read came from a classic book called “The Richest Man in Babylon”. Here is the formula that it recommends: Dedicate 10 percent of your income to repaying your debt. Split this amount among your creditors. Call them and tell them that you are doing your best, and that as your income grows you will pay them more. If they accept, fine, if they don’t, still send them the amount that you came up with. If they threaten you, ignore it: there are no more “debtor prisons”; if they take you to court, go; and show the judge that you are trying to pay your debt, in the majority of cases they will work with you. Know that you are doing your best, and feel the satisfaction of doing your best.
Fight the beliefs of being a “deadbeat”, “loser”, or any derogatory view of people in debt that you may have. Challenge the feelings of inadequacy, shame, low self-esteem, and many other negative emotions that these beliefs can produce. You are living here and now. This is your reality here and now. Remind yourself that you are acting responsibly here and now —and as long as you are living as a responsible person— you are a responsible person.
Now —this is very important— don’t try to practice these techniques perfectly— perfectionism is a source of stress. It’s natural to fail as you begin to learn something new. Please know that you are not alone. If you need help in mastering these skills, find guidance. The best sources of guidance in fighting stress are psychotherapy, meditation, and yoga. These practices help you get grounded, increase your awareness and mindfulness, and help you challenge the irrational beliefs that lead to imaginary, or unrealistic dangers that trigger stress.
I hope that this article helps you to grow into a powerful hunter in our jungle, who uses stress as a useful tool, not a source of suffering.