The following is a fairly meta post about stress and dealing with stressful times. I'm neither a neurologist nor a psychiatrist so I do not have an expert opinion on the topic, I have only my personal experience and the tactics I've learned to deal with it. People who are close to me often describe me as extremely calm and patient, which always surprises me. I never really think of myself that way but in the end appearances matter.
The reason I bring this up, of course, is because I'm feeling a lot of stress at the moment. A lot of it is personal and per my usual policy I won't go into details here. My usual response to events that provoke me is to stop, take a step back and breathe, let myself feel the emotion and once the moment has passed try to look at the problem as objectively as I can. It's important that I feel emotions but it's even more important that I act more than react.
In this article in the Washington Post (I strongly recommend you view the page in Privacy or Incognito mode of your browser unless you have an active account with the Post, also strongly recommended) they discuss a political issue revolving around stress and panic. The point that stands out for me is is this:
A new book by neuropsychologist William Stixrud and my friend Ned Johnson provides an explanation. The book, “The Self-Driven Child,” explains how calm parents give their kids more sense of control and help them perform better.By creating an atmosphere of calm around me I encourage other people to be likewise calm and focused. My best man brought up this quality about me during the reception for my wedding, and my wife has commented on it as well. So tonight when I shared with my wife an angry letter I was writing she expressed a bit of surprise that I was really angry. It's true, I was and I still am. I'm struggling not to let my anger dictate my actions but I can't avoid allowing it to color them. The reason I wrote and sent the letter is because there's a problem that's been going on for a while with someone else and I needed to respond. I needed to take action, not simply react, and decide what I'm going to do going forward. I took some time to mull it over and I kept coming back to the same conclusion. So I made the decision and acted on it. I'm not happy about it. I'm angry that I've been forced into this corner. But after a great deal of thought I can't come up with a better solution. All the good choices have been taken away from me.
The science is simple. If you are calm, your executive functions handled by the brain’s prefrontal cortex — organizing, problem-solving, self-control, decision-making — perform well. If you are overly stressed, those functions decline as your brain floods with cortisol. Stress is contagious, and if you are in the presence of somebody who is out of control — a parent, an employer or, say, a president — your own executive functions decline.
“It’s a terrible thing for a chief executive of anything to be fear-mongering or emotionally reactive,” Johnson explained, “because all the bright capable people around you become less bright and less capable if they’re overly stressed.”
That's life, sometimes. We recognize we are powerless to correct or resolve a problem and all we can do is worry. We rant and rave and do everything we can think of to release that stress but so long as the circumstance remains unchanged it's a coping mechanism at best. Until change happens the stress never truly goes away. In this case there is something I can do to create change, but it carries consequences that I can do nothing about. It carries consequences for people on the periphery of the problem that they can do nothing about. It affects people I care about and I can't help them, I can only choose between evils. I hope that I've chosen the lesser of them but opinions will vary. In time I hope that my choice will be vindicated, but that's something only time will reveal.
History is repeating itself with my problem. I can't help but feel I'm repeating mistakes that others have made before me. There are people in my life whom I have mostly walked away from because they create too much toxicity and nobody needs more of that. I know some of them regret what they've done to me in the past because they've expressed it to me, but frankly I don't care. I don't trust them enough to believe that they truly feel regret, that they don't still believe everything they said and did was absolutely justified. I don't trust them enough to give them the chance to do it again. I'm worried (and will always worry) that I'm committing that mistake now, that the action I feel is justified at this moment will forever poison my relationship with people I care about deeply. Of course I run that risk no matter what I do; I know what some people want me to do but thanks to the corner I've been placed in I don't see how I can. So this is me trying to process the stress and powerlessness I feel over the options available to me. I've chosen to take a stand with as much openness and honesty as possible. I have offered to explain everything to the people affected by it but I can't make them listen and if I tell them anyway I can't make them believe me. I have to give them the choice and to honor whatever decision they make.
I'm not the only one with problems. I'm not the only one who is stressed. As the article I linked points out, everyone's stress has gone up significantly over the last eighteen months even for people who think our nation is on the right track. It's impossible not to feel stressed when there's so much insecurity and unpredictability in our daily lives. No one can see the future, but some have a clearer understanding of outcomes than others. I try to follow those who have a better track record but no one is infallible. So stress is something we just have to learn to live with. You can bury your head, block out the news and pretend nothing is happening outside of your bubble, but eventually life is going to intrude anyway. The path I choose is to acknowledge the stress and its sources and having done so continue moving forward. I can't change the past or present, I can only decide what I'm going to do about the future. Some of those decisions are going to be mistakes. I can't change that, either. But I can try to learn from my mistakes and try to make tomorrow better than today. If we all do that then we can ultimately forge a better world for everyone.
Wouldn't that be a welcome change?