Dealing with Stress, Part 4

Between Immersion, where you and the stress you’re experiencing seem like one giant, painful mass, and Fixed Orbit, in which you have just about managed to separate out two distinct entities -- you and the stress -- there’s a kind of wooziness or dizziness. You’re still reeling from the trauma in your vicinity — but at least it’s a ‘vicinity’: there’s a tiny space between you and it. Not enough space to suggest that you are escaping from it at all, but a narrow crack which hints of things to come.

Here’s where you can take some practical steps:

1. Write down what is causing you stress. Just make some notes, coherent or otherwise, for your eyes only.

2. Once you have some scribbled thoughts, try to see what unknowns lie at the heart of the stress. For example, if you are freaking out about your physical health, what is it that you don’t know about that situation? Is it that you’re not sure how long you have to live? Or how much pain you’ll have to endure? Or how the condition will affect you? If you are deeply worried about a relationship, what don’t you know about it? Are you concerned that a partner may not be faithful? Or that something you’ve done might be found out? Or that you might lose someone?

List these things out; notes will do. You’re not writing a book, you’re trying to move yourself away from the source of stress. Moving a little bit away from the centre of the whirlpool will grant you slightly more reasoning powers. As these powers grow, you will find you can lever yourself a little further away and so on.

After a while, you should have a list of things you don’t know or aren’t certain about. It’s those unknowns which act as gaps or vacuums or black holes — that lack of knowledge or certainty starts things swirling, drains certainty from your environment. The more unknowns you have around you, the more your surroundings are leached of stability; the more unstable things seem, the more your world starts to rock and to slide toward oblivion.

At the moment, you can’t fill in those blanks. If you could, you wouldn’t be stressed. But you can at least try to isolate where the blanks are. As you do so, one thing becomes clear: you and the blanks are not the same thing.

This is an extension of what you spotted emerging from Immersion: you and the stress are not the same thing. Now you can strengthen that perception: you and the blanks you listed are not identical. The more specific blanks you can list, the better.

It may be that some of the blanks can now be filled in: you might spot things which act as answers at this point, and things begin to settle down. But let’s assume that the stress is still overpoweringly strong and that you are still very much in orbit around it. How do you move into a more wayward, freer orbit?

You can look at how you might be contributing to some of these blanks yourself.

Perhaps you are avoiding contacting a doctor about a health matter; perhaps you are neglecting to have a much-needed discussion with a partner, a boss, a colleague. As you carefully look over your list of blanks, you will probably find ways in which you are helping to hold these blanks in place.

You may also find more blanks as you look, too. That’s fine, note them all down, be as specific as you can. Then keep looking for things that you are doing — or not doing, that you should be doing — to bring about that set of unknowns. Oddly enough, after a while, as your reasoning powers grow, you will start to realise that you have been harming yourself through your own contribution to the blanks that you then hold close to your heart, with resulting pain and anguish.

Not entirely, of course. These unknowns are real unknowns to be causing you such stress. But careful examination will start to peel away some at least of the pain and anguish. What remains is the core of the stress, still capable of regularly overwhelming you. However, in doing the above, it is likely that you will have moved from Fixed Orbit to Wayward Orbit — in other words, rather than being totally fixated on the stress, you are now able to enjoy periods free from it, albeit fleeting. Instead of staring into the abyss all day and night, your life becomes a kind of binary journey, up and down.

Take it easy: get as much rest as you can and eat well. You still have a ways to go.

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