Linda Lewis Griffith

How to calm stress storms

Emotional stressors come in all shapes and sizes. A boyfriend unceremoniously dumps us. Our employer goes out of business unexpectedly and we’re left scrambling to pay the rent. A dear friend has told us she has only a few months to live.

Each of these events opens a floodgate of emotion. They trigger an onslaught of racing thoughts that quickly jam our psychic airwaves. The more we think about them, the more agitated we become. We feel panicky, confused. It’s nearly impossible to sort things out.

Psychological upheaval is a normal response to stress and generally decreases over time. It also varies from person to person. Some folks hardly respond to trauma while others unravel over trivial stimuli and stay in overdrive for weeks on end.

One way to help quiet the inner maelstrom is to focus on the lessons each incident teaches us. Rather than telling ourselves that we’ve been wronged or feeling angry at the cards dealt us, we look at how to behave differently in the future or how to approach the problem in a new light.

For instance, a family conflict over the holidays shows where we need to set limits with our parents. The death of a loved one reminds us to keep our personal affairs up to date. The end of a marriage might teach us to pick better partners or be a more attentive mate.

Lessons are different for each of us. We all have issues that warrant improvement. They also change as we mature. A problem that is front and center in our 20s might be irrelevant when we reach middle age.

Certain topics recur as if on schedule. A quick-tempered man may repeatedly offend his loved ones, replaying a familiar scenario of bruised feelings and abruptly ended evenings. Attending to the lessons inherent in such skirmishes sets the stage for future change.

Sometimes lessons are obvious. We may decide to quit smoking and start exercising following a heart attack. But others remain elusive. We may not understand why a young father of two is killed on his way to the office. Perhaps the lesson is that life doesn’t always have answers, and that we exist in an irrational world. Focusing on what experiences teach us pays huge personal dividends. First, we stop being victims. We’re no longer casting blame. Instead, we assume complete control of our behavior and the way we respond to life’s events. Next, we’re immediately calmer. Yes, stresses bombard us daily. But we needn’t come unglued. Detaching from the drama decreases angst while allowing us to chart a different course. Finally, we gain a new perspective. We see the world through vastly altered eyes. We may respond with increased compassion and forgiveness as we uncover what work we personally need to do. Revealing life’s lessons isn’t a simple process. It requires persistence and patience at every turn. And it doesn’t mean we’re free from sadness. We’re just wiser as a result.