Updated: Jan 29
Hi Friends of Oompf, it's Nicholas Patrick from Ekho Academy. Today I will be talking about stress and a philosophical approach to manage it.
Nicholas Patrick is the host of the Ekho Academy podcast; a podcast tapping into our collective experience and wisdom so we can learn to be more resilient. He was also a mental ambassador for the National Council of Social Services’ (NCSS) Beyond the Label campaign, and is passionate about spreading the message of mental wellness after recovering from his own mental health issues.
Let me manage your expectations. I'm not qualified to speak on stress from either a biological or psychological standpoint.
But after spending a little over a decade suffering and recovering from clinical depression, I've had quite a fascination with the topic because stress is a slippery slope back to depression. So it is paramount for me to know how to keep it in check.
And knowing what I know now - while still fully aware of my limitations - I would like to offer a more philosophical approach to stress management.
Fundamentally, when dealing with any sort of suffering in life, we have to be prepared to do two things. We must
Unlearn the habits that contribute to our suffering, and
Learn how to learn, so we empower ourselves to master and discard knowledge efficiently
Stress is no different. After all, the way we perceive stress has a real impact on our stress levels. And that can be scientifically proven.
What Is Stress?
The knowledge I have on stress comes from a friend of mine, Dr Kwon Kim, a neuroscientist whose focus is on stress and how it affects our mental health.
(If you’d like to learn about stress from an expert, I highly recommend the conversation I had with him. You can listen to it on Spotify or Itunes.)
My favourite line from Kwon was when he said that "stress is our body's way of rising to a challenge".
But what kind of challenge are we rising to?
Well, the challenge is the stressors in our life, of which there are two kinds - external stressors and internal stressors. External stressors refer to the physical dangers in our life. For example, when a soldier is in a war zone. Internal stressors are psychological and emotional in nature. For example, being unemployed for a prolonged period of time or a future non-existent threat like how the economic impact of COVID-19 might affect you. In essence, stress is a form of stimulation designed to keep us performing in a way that keeps us alive. Therefore, the goal in life should not be to get rid of this stimulation. It should be to get the right type of stimulation, at the right time, and in the right amounts.
When Does Stress Become A Problem?
Stress is valuable only when it is acute. In other words, when it happens occasionally. And more importantly, when you know it will end. It is only useful as a short-term solution to an immediate threat.
But it becomes a problem when it is chronic. When stress continues for an indefinite period of time, it takes a toll on our physical and mental health.
In the modern world, chronic stress arises mostly from internal stressors. For many of us living through the pandemic of COVID-19, the uncertainty of what the future holds can be a cause of stress. And if we don't change the way we think about it, it will continue to stress us out until COVID-19 is no longer a threat and the world returns to normal. Of course, this way of thinking is unsustainable. Because if not COVID-19, then another internal stressor will trigger our stress response for a prolonged period of time.
So the question then becomes... What can you do?
Don't start with the solution. Start With Your Philosophy
The good news is that there are many ways to deal with stress. With so much information on dealing with stress readily available, finding a remedy is effortless. A quick Google search will likely lead you down a rabbit hole. But while there are a plethora of solutions available, I would like to suggest that you not start there. I would argue that you should start with your philosophy in life. In other words, what serves as your guiding principle for your actions?
The reason for this is simple.
Your philosophy will clarify your purpose.
Your purpose will clarify what you focus on.
And what you focus on will clarify the things worth stressing over.
As mentioned earlier, stress is a form of stimulation. Therefore your philosophy will help you get the right type of stimulation, at the right time, and in the right amounts. Only after limiting the amount of stressors in your life can solutions like meditation and exercise really be effective. That's what I've learned through my mental health journey. The more I refined my philosophy, the less stressors I have in my life. And as such, even the simplest of solutions, like meditation, does wonders for me.
Dealing with stress without first dealing with your stressors is a fool's errand.
Because what is the point of mastering a solution if the problem never ends?
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