From Stress to Serenity–the Steps

By

In a recent post, I mentioned how on my walk one day, a thought dropped into my mind: “You create a lot of your own stress, you know.”

The voice was not judgmental; it was just an observation. A message from my deeper self (or God) that came in the context of a wake-up call that I needed to deal with the stress in my life.

If I did not, I sensed, it was quite possible some health crisis could happen to me, like the heart attack that Dr. Mark Virkler had, despite his “doing everything right.”

I’m finding that, if we keep on a path of healing, we will heal at ever deeper levels. This message from my heart was an invitation to observe the ways I might be creating my own stress. To examine the beliefs and ways of thinking that, when indulged, disturb my peace and create the ripple effects of stress on spirit, soul and body.

The biggest way I create my own stress came down to this: trying to create the ideal.

Have you ever noticed that often your greatest strength can become your biggest liability? One of my great strengths is the ability to see possibilities–for myself and others.

I automatically see potential in everything, as well as the exact steps needed to achieve that potential.

Of course, this is helpful for my clients. I can see the possibilities they can’t when they’re mired in “heart issues.”

For me personally, though, it can be a liability. If I let the possibility I see become an expectation, I set myself up for stress.

Because I can see what could be, I can slip into feeling less content with what is. I set myself up for unhealthy control–trying to make that ideal outcome happen.

Unfortunately, religion has not helped me in this area. I realize I have internalized unconscious idealized versions of what a “good” Christian, wife, husband, family, church member, etc. looks like. Subconsciously, I’m always trying to live up to that ideal–or, get others to.

When I read the Bible, however, I don’t get that same idealism. The Bible is astonishingly realistic. It does not paint a picture of an ideal world.  (Well, it does, but only in the first two and the last chapters of the whole book! In between are all kinds of examples of how the world is not what God originally envisioned–but also, what he’s done and is doing about it.)  I’m using the Bible to overcome my religion–how about that?!

The truth is, the world is chaotic, and things rarely work out the way I know they could or should. I want the world to be orderly, comfortable–and the world is not cooperating! My stress comes because I desire the world to be different than it is.

The antidote to this is to stop and reflect. (The first part is hard; the second, thankfully, does come naturally to me.)

First, I need to observe what is actually going on. This means noticing that I’m feeling stress. The best way is to periodically tune in to my body. What is going on in my body? What emotion can I connect with that sensation in my body?

The body gives clues to what’s going on in the heart. I may not really be aware I’m stressed, but when I drop into my body, I notice the physical cues. I become aware that I tend to breathe very shallowly when under stress, or even hold my breath. By consciously slowing and deepening my breathing, I reset my nervous system into a more coherent state–which lessens the stress considerably.

Next, I need to become aware of what I’m thinking. What is the story I’m telling myself about the way something should be? What is the ideal I’m envisioning?

“If that person would only do X, they wouldn’t suffer so much.  I don’t like this; I have to find a way to change it. I can’t believe I did that; I know better.”

When I notice what ideal I’m (often unconsciously) envisioning and how I’m trying to make that ideal a reality, I can better evaluate whether this is something to pursue.

Usually, it’s not.

The key is, do I really have any control over this outcome?

If I don’t, I need to give it up. To just let go and let be. To see, perhaps just as a casual experiment, what it would be like to be in the moment, without the ideal or the narrative. What would it be like if I really trusted that God is working all things together for my good because I trust him?

When I can do this–let go of the ideal, the outcome, the story I’m telling myself–I can feel free. When I actively remind myself that I’m not God, and that I can trust him to bring about the best outcome, I can relax.

I’ve always loved the “Serenity Prayer.” Many people know the first part, but few know the original, full version.  It perfectly sums up the way to let go of this kind of self-created stress and embrace peace. My goal is to memorize it (an outcome over which I have complete control!).

“God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.”

If you would like help in identifying ways you create your own stress–and what to do about it–visit HealingCodesCoaching.com and check out my coaching packages.

 

Leave a Reply

avatar

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  Subscribe  
Notify of

Privacy Policy

View Privacy Policy. Your use of this site implies you agree with this policy.