5 Things We Can Do After a Stressor (Stressful Event)

5 Things We Can Do After a Stressor (Stressful Event)

Although I’m thinking about this with the recent election in mind, this writing can be applicable to any event or situation that has caused stress, anxiety, panic, or fear (or something else). With a lot of stressful events, like a job loss, a relationship ending, or a loved one falling ill/passing away, there are many different feelings to navigate through, and they’re not always linear (eg. the 5 stages of grief).

For me, like many, the election is still fresh, and although some of us might be inching towards acceptance of the outcome, I still feel like I’m in a post-election wtf. Over the past week, I’m alternating between many uncomfortable states of mind and heart. There’s fear-What’s going to happen? There’s panic-We’re fucked. There’s hope-Oh, maybe his campaign rhetoric was just rhetoric. There’s confusion and uncertainty-Does this guy even know what is own policies and values are? There’s a lack of faith-Who is this man? Who are these people in his circle? Who are my fellow fucking Americans? Maybe that’s anger. Waves of calm, relief, panic, fear and doubt all take turns residing within. I’ve definitely lost some sleep. I’ve become totally identified with the outcome of this stressful (for me) event. I want to talk about being consumed by and identified with something, while moving towards acceptance and letting go..  

The good news is, as someone once said ‘If something is in the way, it is the way.’

If we are feeling saddened, disappointed, or angry due to a life event, it’s important to remember that the existential nature of being human is to ultimately not be in control. We can’t determine or dictate the outcome of things, not matter how much we strive for control. Learning to have a new relationship with expectations is essential for all of us, I think. Difficulties, deaths, illness, and broken relationships have been the nature of existence since the beginning of time, and will continue to be part of our daily fabric. In other words, this is how it’s supposed to be. I think sometimes it’s hard to remember that and even harder to wrap our heads around it.  So, ‘If something is in the way, it is the way.’ Instead of resisting the cold reality, fighting against its existence, we open-heartedly, to whatever degree we can, and open-mindedly turn towards the path. We are willing to touch (commit to making things better), and be touched (creating space for the pain and difficulty).

Eugene Cash said, we don’t do acceptance. Acceptance does us. We can’t force ourselves to accept and ultimately let go. There is a difference between fake acceptance and real acceptance. A yogini who called herself Devi put it like this:   

Everybody wants to let go, but how do you let go if you don’t hold things, if you don’t touch things in full consciousness, with a totally open heart?… The first thing is having the experience of touch, of profound contact with things, with the universe, with mental commotion.  Everything begins there: touching the universe deeply.” “If you let go before touching deeply, that can bring on severe mental turmoil.  Many beginning yogis and yoginis make this mistake.  They let go before taking hold.   The heart is never opened.  They enter into a sterile void and remain imprisoned there.”

“When you touch deeply, you no longer need to let go.  That occurs naturally.   There is no other way, not a single detour or shortcut.”

Simply put, she said before you can accept and let go, you have to experience how it feels to grasp and hold. You have to touch everything before you understand.

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So, we must:

1)   Grieve:

Suffering is the doorway to letting go of suffering.

It’s important to take the time to feel whatever it is that you feel. Feelings need to be felt. Allowing yourself to feel vulnerable, confused, angry, disappointed, or sad is ok. There will come a time for acceptance or action and later, but we can’t take care of anything until we take care of ourselves. One doesn’t take beneficial action unless it comes from a grounded, centered, and equanimous place. When one is acting out of fear or hatred, one’s actions aren’t as skillful. A way to take care of yourself is to acknowledge the difficult feelings and create emotional space for them, and let the feelings do what they need to do. Talking to someone you trust, mindfulness meditation, and proper sleep, exercise, and diet can all assist in this. The point is, there are moments when it’s wise to allow yourself to sink into an undefended and vulnerable place. What’s the Leonard Cohen lyric–everything has a crack and the crack is where the light gets in.

Have the nightmare, lose some sleep, let yourself be concerned and worried. Cry, despair, be afraid. This is the time for this, and that’s ok…

2) Take Action:

If you are the kind of person who let’s yourself be teachable, you might often notice how the happiest people are those who give something back, or do something consistently that isn’t focused on the self. Bob Marley says in Pass It On: Live for yourself, you will live in vain; Live for others, you will live again. I think it’s so important to learn how to break the chain of our discursive mind’s habit to storify everything and input ‘me, mine, or I’ into every thought we have. We know meditation, exercise, and being of service is not only a way to do this, but also a way to benefit others. Being of benefit. If it’s something like an election that has upset you, supporting causes that are in alignment with your values is a way to make your voice heard. Non-aggressive action. Aggression breeds more aggression, and ‘hate begets hate.’ Giving back to a cause you believe in. Your local pet shelter has dogs who would love to to go for a walk. There is a beach or a park that needs cleaned up. There are local groups that support the minority communities (LGBTQ, Muslim, Planned Parenthood) that are in fear post-election. Perhaps fighting voter suppression, or helping people get registered. The planet is now in line to take steps in the wrong direction, so you might look into supporting the NRDC or the EPA. Talk to your friends about the importance of avoiding plastic. Stop buying and using plastic products. Recycle more.. If it’s another type of stressor, there is a huge benefit to taking a walk or hike, and noticing the smells, sounds, etc. Volunteering. Forcing yourself to act in ways that will get you out of your head and take a break from your stories.

Since this is partially election related, I want to suggest taking action to support real news sources. I’m not the most sophisticated person to speak on this topic, but I have a feeling a lot of voters in this election made decisions based on the social media algorithms that feed a person specific news catered to their tastes. We click on the topics that are friends share, and then we get more articles fed to us based on that click. I think fake news is a real things now, and finding a reputable new sources and supporting it is super important. This might mean subscribing to receive the hardopy of your local paper or paying for the online subscription. I think relying on your FB news feed for your news might not be a good idea. Get creative and figure out a way to find and support real news. Our President-Elect is cozy with specific far right media heads that might likely soon be influencing our country’s policies. Finding real news seems more vital, and probably more challenging, than ever before. Rant over.

3) Live. We Only Have a Short Instant To Live. A Buddhist Sutra.

How can we be of benefit? What do we want to give to the world? How would we like to be remembered, and what do we want to remember? We know we are only here briefly. Just like a wagon wheel, at any one point in time, it rests on a single point of its rim, just as the life of any being endures only at a single moment of consciousness. Like, right, Now. There is this moment, and then it’s gone. Now this moment, and it’s gone. The being of your past consciousness has lived, lives no longer, and will not live again. The being of your future consciousness has not yet lived, and will only live later.  The being of your present consciousness did not live previously, lives just now, and will not live again. This is all just a moment of aliveness, that disappears. What does this have to do with how we can respond to the stressors of life? Appreciating the beauty, magic, and intimacy of our aliveness right now allows us to respond to our difficult moments in more skillful ways. This is one reason why we practice meditation.

4) Listen:

Really. Listen. You’re engaged with someone with whom you don’t agree, and while they are talking, 50% of your attention is on what they’re saying, and 50% is on what you want to say next. This isn’t deep listening. They sense that you’re not fully there, and they don’t feel heard, which increases their defenses. Authentic Listening is not easy, and it’s really a lifelong practice. If you know what your triggers are, you will be more likely to re-center in the midst of a challenging conversation, and hear the other out, instead of reacting based on you feeling threatened. It’s really hard to find common ground when two people are both acting out from a defensive posture. As Waylon Lewis of Elephant Journal likes to say, if you are unable to allow and respect opposing views, you are going to cocoon yourself in a nice cozy circle of yes-men who only say what you want to hear. That doesn’t feel like a good way to go through life to me.

5) Be Of Benefit. Give Back. 

How do we do this in small, daily doses? Really it can be as simple as putting a smile on someone’s face. If your joke makes the Starbuck’s cashier smile, you have succeeded! You can make a dog’s day by heading to your shelter and taking one for a walk. That dog’s tail will be wagging so hard, and you will have won in giving some love for that day. Tell your family you love them or miss them. Forgive someone. This is loving. Notice the big moon and the bright stars. Love yourself as well. When you take care of yourself, you’re taking care of the world. Go for a hike and actually be present for the sights, sounds, and smells. Notice the warm water on your body during your shower. Actually be in the shower-not in the meeting that you have tomorrow. Take a time-out from all of this and come back to your body, your breath, and some supportive phrases, like ‘I love you, keep going.’ Taking care of yourself is an act of kindness and benefits all of us.

I think acceptance means to acknowledge the reality that our life, or our family, or our country, or our planet likely will change as a result of inevitable difficult stressors.  We must learn how to open our heart-mind to touch the difficulty fully, allow it to break our heart, or anger our heart, so that we can move towards acceptance and action when our heart gives us the go-ahead.

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