How Stress Affects the Mind!

When stress takes over and becomes chronic, the mind becomes like a monkey, hopping from one concern to the next without focusing on, or resolving, any.  The mind can tell us stories and alter our reality, misinterpreting things said or the actions of others.  This misinterpreting may become our new “normal” so that life is no longer happy or peaceful.  We become frightened and watchful.

A great example of this mind story-telling is in the lyrics of a song by Pink called, “Just Give Me a Reason”.  She sings of hearing her love speak in his sleep, “Things you never say to me” and she says then, “Tell me that you’ve had enough of our love”.  He replies, “I’m sorry I don’t understand – Where all of this is coming from – I thought that we were fine – Your head is running wild again – My dear we still have everythin’ – And it’s all in your mind”.  But she says, “Yeah, but this is happening”.

Now, who is right and who is wrong?  It is all in perception.  But when we are coming from the perception of fear, reality is skewed – our mind is telling us stories!

In the book Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart, Mark Epstein, MD, discusses how we may be afraid to face past disappointments and failures but that these memories remain in our bodies and subconscious minds.  It seems that at times of high stress, these memories may be conjured back into a reality for us that colors our perception of our current situation.

We obsess about our imagined situation, the situation that stress and unresolved issues have created.  And as we obsess, our mind becomes even more hyper-vigilant, looking for validation of what we fear.  We become self-conscious, dwelling on our own experience and not seeing the viewpoint or true intentions of others.

Ayurveda teaches us that just like the food we consume, our daily emotional experiences must also be digested.  If they are not digested, i.e. pondered, examined, felt, understood, they become like undigested food, toxic to the mind and to the body.

Pema Chodron in her book, When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Difficult Times, writes, “…the point is not to try to get rid of thoughts, but rather to see their true nature.  Thoughts will run us around in circles if we buy into them, but really they are like dream images.  They are like an illusion – not really all that solid.  They are, as we say, just thinking.”

Just thinking.

So when we find ourselves in a place of fearfulness, anxiety, depression from the stories our minds are telling, we must examine these thoughts, these stories and do a reality check.  How likely are the things we fear going to happen?  Are we truly at risk at losing our jobs, our love, our home?  When we more clearly assess the situation, or have someone help us to do so, without our fears guiding us, we come to recognize that it has been stress causing our minds to create our new reality, one not founded in the actual.  We can then start to settle into a place of calm.

Dr. Epstein writes, “If we want peace, we must first learn how to quiet our own minds.  If we want release, we must learn how to cease our own craving.”

Letting go of the self-absorption, listening to others without our monkey-mind filter engaged, actively stepping to the side of our frightened self and examining what is at hand, letting go of our expectations of bad things about to happen, we may be able to live just in this moment.  When we do this, our reality shifts.  And just like with meditation, we might have to bring ourselves back again and again to that present moment.  But the more that we can hear and experience, without our fear filter, the more we can start to release the stress causing fear.

Our lives expand in a way that allows love and wellbeing to flow.  We are no longer ruled by our stories.

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