Ring ring! “bloody phone…better get it!” “Jay, we have a problem, the project you have been working on for the last 18 months can’t meet its deadline today because BHP haven’t signed off!
This is how my last day of the week ended. In fact, this is how most of my weeks feel, impossible situations that all need cool thinking and quick reflexes – I often wonder if I have either. In amongst all the stress is the underlying reason I do what I do, that is to get children out of poverty, it is a serious business. I look around the office most days and others seem to have a jovial look on their face enjoying their coffee as they plough through emails. Inside of me is a tornado of deadlines and a constant thread of stress as I spend money to make money for those in need around the world. Something isn’t right….
If you read my blog, “Anangu TIme – What the” you will know how much I learnt from our indigenous brothers and sisters and yet 1 month later I am back to the chaos of ‘gettin er done’ at warp speed. It seems I have no choice in life but to play with the big people or unhook, or at least that is what I have thought up till now.
Enter a wise friend of mine – he is a psychologist and I have been doing a ‘pit stop’ on life for re-calibration, particularly in light of our last 7 years of life with my daughter who lives with Cerebral Palsy. It has been wonderful and I am intensely grateful for his skills he has developed over the years of which I am now the beneficiary. In one session he blurted out in a professional but humorous tone, “Jay, you are shit at setting realistic goals for yourself, you have realistic expectations for those around you but not for yourself – your stress is of your own making.” It was a stunning thought for me, probably boring for you to read! How could anyone say my life’s journey wasn’t the primary reason for my stress? — does — not — compute —
So what is so revolutionary about my psychologists insensitive evaluation? I do have a very stressful life, my family life is crazy, I have had a wacky upbringing and I have job that I have a love/hate relationship with. Until a few weeks ago I understood that life happened to you, everyone was the recipient of the environments random impulse of direction, well apparently it isn’t entirely true. Don’t worry I am not going to quote from a self help manual or preach everyone should be rich!
My latest revelation is; life cannot be regulated and I had been spending most of my time attempting to temper it with no great success – stuff keeps on happening …big stuff! Moving to another country, changing jobs, longer holidays, more fun things has not controlled the slow creeping larva of stress. I thought you counteracted stress by participating in an equal amount of activity that wasn’t stressful (there is of course some sense to that but on its own it hasn’t helped me in any great way).
Brain alert! The only thing I can do is manage how I respond? huh? No great revelation there for most, but for me it was….a big revelation. Even though in my head I have always understood this, my usual reaction to stress would be to manage the environment like a cowboy trying to lasso a tyrannosaurs. My stress levels have bubbled at a higher level unnecessarily because I have arrogantly believed that I can push back the creep of life and wrestle dinosaurs with my bare hands.
So how do I view stress now? Still figuring that out but I have realised that I CAN control the cortisone levels in my body through various exercises and de-stress with meditation etc…but the biggest de-stressor for me has been accepting that I can’t control life. I can’t manage the tidal force of life destined to appear like clockwork. In the past when things would happen I would put the blame back on me that I must have made a wrong decision somewhere or I should have done something different. The only thing I can do is respond to the surprises and be responsible for my own stress levels as they are my own and not anyone else’s. I didn’t realise that the brain can actually get addicted to stress, if you have done this behavior for long enough new pathways are created that will dictate how you will respond in the future. In other words it is possible to feed your own perception of stress to catastrophic levels even without the kindling of life’s challenges. Time to reprogram and hum a little.
Life won’t change and people won’t change, in fact life may even get worse. ‘The mess of stress’ will convince you that you are powerless and it just isn’t true, there is another way grasshopper.