Stress kills or stress pills?

We’re all familiar with the constant, never ending mental chatter that goes on in our heads day in and day out, and many people have unsurprisingly come to believe that this is how it should be if we want to survive (let alone thrive) in this fast changing, constantly evolving jungle of digital information and “experts” pretending to understand it.

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However, what we fail to realise is that this type of “mental chatter” can often rob us of something far more precious than staying on top of the latest trends and newest information – our peace of mind.

There are three ways in which you can interpret the sentence you’ve just read.

1) You recognise on a deep, gut level that this is in fact what’s been missing in your life for a long time and you feel a very strong yearning for it, but don’t believe that it is possible to maintain the same level of productiveness and efficiency without a certain degree of stress. And you would be only partly correct. To understand what I mean by this, we should first clarify that there are two main categorisations of stress – eustress and distress.

Eustress is often called the “good stress”, the stress that comes from challenging yourself to overcome an obstacle that stretches you in a healthy way. Examples of eustress may include getting started on your new job, getting into a new relationship, taking up a sport exercise, and so on. It is commonly short lived and it may provide you with a sense of excitement which comes from anticipation of a positive change in your life.

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Distress is the “bad guy” that we all kind of hate. It first begins to express itself in a form of anxiety or frustration and may lead to severe mental illnesses if left unmanaged. This is the type of stress that most commonly occurs when we feel unworthy or unable to perform a certain task, and the stakes and pressure behind it are usually very high.

Examples may include the death of a significant person in our lives, a financial meltdown, close relationship problems, etc.

Completely avoiding it is nearly, if not entirely, impossible, however, it should be noted that we often keep ourselves in a state of distress without consciously realising it.

There are many ways in which you can cope with distress, ranging from simple lifestyle changes to psychiatric therapies and pharmaceuticals, depending on the progression and severity of your condition. For most people, however, majority of distress comes from failing to deal with their own thoughts in a healthy and constructive way, and can be easily managed by learning how to think and perceive the problems and challenges in a different light.

2) You’re already well acquainted with the numerous benefits of investing conscious effort into building a calm, peaceful state of mind and the way it adds to your ability to perform complex tasks, but you have a problem maintaining this fragile state because it seems to slip away so easily.

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3) You think peace of mind is for lazy individuals who tag-along on the hard working backs of society. Even if such people are doing something good with their lives, they could certainly do much better if they only allowed themselves to sacrifice their peace of mind every once in a while.

If this is your mindset, I would highly advise you to try meditating immediately prior to performing a demanding task. As soon as you do, you will suddenly realise the copious amount of work you can get done in this relaxed, concentrated and highly focused state of mind. We live in the age of the internet, and we’re slowly beginning to be conditioned to believe that we need to be bombarded with information from all sides in order to stay on top of things.

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But what good is this information if you cannot process it properly? What good is the information if you cannot recall it? What good is this information if you do not find the time to put it to use because you are distracted by another set of information in the meantime?

Research has shown that the average human attention span now lasts only 8 seconds. In comparison, the attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds. Does that mean that goldfish will soon take over the world and enslave us? Not likely. But we ought to pay more serious consideration to this issue.

People often tell me – slow down Bob. Slow down? Are they kidding me? I’m just beginning to warm up. We can go very fast, yet remain very calm. – Bob Proctor

How to go very fast yet remain calm?

Do you remember the rate at which you learned when you were a kid? Of course you don’t, you were a kid. Luckily, we have neuroscience to show us that our minds tend to be incredibly plastic when we are very young. We easily master some of the most complex operations such as walking and language, yet we have no prior references. And this makes evolutionary sense. However, we used to think that we “lose” this plasticity throughout the years, as our brains become more and more “formed”.

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But neuroplasticity does not work like that. In fact, we now know that our brains are in a constant state of “flux”, always forming new connections between neurons, and this allows for such incredible transformations to occur in the personality throughout our lives.

This is important, because it implies that we are not a product of either “nature” or “nurture”, but rather a combination of both. It gives us the ability to influence our own thoughts and behavioural patterns in order to make lasting changes.

With this in mind, I would like to suggest that we all became a little more like kids again. A little more plastic, a little more open, impressed, curious, fascinated. A little less conserved, self important, bored, stressed and worried. I honestly believe this attitude can lead to an enormous relief of stress, anxiety and needless pain that we undergo in our daily lives.

Enter – The “fascination” technique.

There is plenty of research being done on the mind-body connection, and by now pretty much everyone is aware that our thoughts have a strong, measurable effect on our bodies.

This is why today we have the unique opportunity to see so many “positive thinking” lunatics running on the streets with a big crazy smile on their face, trying to preserve their mental health while their bank account swiftly wanes and their marriages decay.

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I am not trying to refute the power of positive thinking, but I was never a strong believer that this alone will get you far in life. I am, however, more interested in how we can use our thoughts and our bodies in a way that helps us boost our performance and productivity, and decrease our negative emotions and experiences.

Very few people are aware that the mind-body connection runs equally efficient in the other direction as well – and understanding this is the key to mastering the fascination technique.

In the late 80s, Robert Zajonc, a Polish-born American psychologist conducted a famous experiment where he had depressed people force a grin while looking at themselves in the mirror, and found that after a couple of minutes nearly all of them experienced a significant positive change in state and attitude.

If you wanted to induce feelings of sadness, all you have to do is lower your shoulders, tilt your head downwards, breathe shallow, make a sad face and wait for a few minutes.

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In fact, nearly every emotional state is replicable by mimicking the corresponding physical posture, including fascination.

I stumbled upon this idea completely by accident (I’m lying, I took a fairly large dose of magic mushrooms and realised that we are all one and that life is just a ride), but it impacted my life in a very profound way.

The practical benefits associated with this state of mind are beyond words:

  • You will start paying more and more attention to people and really listen to what they’re saying, which will result in a huge affection and appreciation for you. This will cause you to quickly widen your social circle and meet new and interesting people.
  • You will become better and more productive at work. Everyday things will not seem mundane anymore and your creativity will shine through. This can help you move forward in your career faster than you’ve previously imagined possible.
  • Your anxiety will decrease because you will be too busy being amazed and curious about the world around you to obsess with what other people (or even yourself) may or may not think of you. You will develop real self confidence that is not built on the shaky foundations of “ego” which have to be rebuilt every time something goes bad in your life, and it inevitably will.

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OK I’m sold… tell me how!

Woah… hold your horses. Sorry to disappoint, but it would be impossible to give “universal directions” on how to get into this state because everyone expresses feelings differently.

WHAT! YOU JUST READ 1500 WORDS FOR THIS?! I know, you were expecting a magic bullet, right? Life doesn’t work that way, and the sooner you learn – the better.

I will, however, give you a few general pointers that you can use in order to pin it down for yourself and lock it in:

1. Start meditating

Meditation produces a very similar state to what we’re going for, except you can move around and perform complex tasks. Like meditation, it is a state of being acutely aware of your surroundings while simultaneously keeping a very strong focus at task at hand. This will help you familiarise yourself with the feeling.

2. Notice how you look when you’re amazed/fascinated and try to imitate it

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This may look silly at first, and you may be afraid of looking like a total idiot, but do it anyway. How does your face look? Are your eyes widened? What about your mouth? Are they slightly opened? Do you move quickly or slowly? When you’re really awestruck, does your brain stop to marvel the sight? Go somewhere outside where you can be alone (preferably in nature) and practice this for 10-15 minutes. This behaviour will trick your brain into a state of heightened alertness and very soon you will start noticing a change. It should feel like you’re in a state of bliss and wonder, with only an occasional thought flying by. You will feel very calm and capable. This is what we’re going for.

3. Try to practice it in a conversation or while performing a task

After you learned to reproduce this state at will, try using it in an environment where you have to socialise or while performing a complex task. You will see that not only can you maintain this state of pure awesomeness, but you will also excel at whatever you’re focused on doing without experiencing a hint of stress.

4. Keep practicing until it’s consistent

If you don’t use it – you lose it. This holds true for muscles as much as it does for having an ability to manipulate your emotional states. Make sure you anchor this feeling so that you can access it at command, whenever you wish.

Go now, be awesome!

That’s it. Like WordPress says – “You were expecting more steps? Sorry to disappoint!”

Please remember – it will only work as much as you believe it will work for you. It’s a very subtle idea that has to be practiced for days before you can really anchor it. However, once you do, unlike Bradley Cooper in Limitless, you will be able to focus, have fun and produce much more than you dreamed possible, without risking death due to substance abuse.

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It’s okay Bradley, we get it.

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To your success,
Dino Čagalj

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2 thoughts on “Stress kills or stress pills?

  1. Very interesting, well researched article Dino. Really enjoyed the reference to psychology and research. Learned a lot.

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