Author: Flinn
Title: Coping with Stress - The Last Supper

Coping with Stress - The Last Supper
The Last Supper

Tired of every day’s life pushing on you? No more room for stress? Getting close to the limit? Before it’s too late, come join us and have a sit at our table; enjoy the food and the drink (and all other goodies) while listening to CCR; little naps are allowed and a bottle or two of White Russian are always welcomed! Just don’t piss on the rug please, ‘cause it really ties the room together, ok?

Note on the thread:It is mandatory to clarify that I’m not a medic or a psychologist, therefore what you will read here is just coming from my personal experience and my own researches. I might be quoting some “official” sources, but in no way my advices have to be considered “therapeutic”, nor is my intention to provide any medical advice; as usual such are out of the scope of the PH&A fora and personally I always suggest to approach a professional if one is facing serious stress/depression (and similar) problems. The first intention is to lay down a series of considerations and suggestions about coping with stress (the root of all evil, and the source of most of our troubles), but I’ll also include some tips on more specific issues (such as relations, job and so on) and might be adding more in the future.

Note on the author: It might be worth to mention that I consider myself to be a Dudeist; I’ve met the Dudeism some years ago, but never paid it much attention till few months ago, after I read “The Abide Guide. Living Like Lebowski”. It was a great surprise for me to realize that a “religion” actually came forth from the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece; heck, I enjoyed the movie very much back then and nodded various times to some of the “truths” showed in it, but I never expected it to become a source of relief and recovery for so many people. I do not share all the views in it, nor I believe in a totally lazy approach to life, but I can’t deny I realized that I already had almost same approach to life and problems and that it summarizes pretty well my beliefs and ideas. Kudos to the friend that introduced me to it (are your ears ringing Fiz-dude?) and to the old philosophers and thinkers who have, for the most part, told us all that is worth to tell.

If you want to learn a bit about me you can check here and here; I do not wish for popularity, but I think it could be interesting for you to know that I’m just but a very normal man, with his own problems and struggles, because this could teach you a lesson: we all have the means to live a happy, fruitful and gorgeous life, all we need to do is wanting it and working our way to achieve it.
Other than this, I'm the Dude. So that's what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderiño if you're not into the whole brevity thing.

Final Note: all that I state here is perfectly arguable and for sure there’s always more than one single approach to cope with life’s troubles, none the less it’s been a while since I joined the PH&A community and since then I’ve been giving less or more the same suggestions and considerations, so that’s why I deemed right to made a sort of compendium of my views about dealing with problems and stress, hoping that it would be useful to someone to face every day’s life issues and to cope with troubles in general. Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, my opinion, man.

Coping with Stress - The Taking It Easy Approach

Why bothering at all?

Those who know me a bit have seen me many times using the simple assertion that, most of the times, one really only needs to take it easy in order to survive the moment. As a general rule I’m strongly convinced that the best way to deal with our own problems (and related stress) is to understand them; in order to do so one needs to have a clear mind and to approach the whole matter as much honestly as possible. A problem won’t solve itself if you let it trample over you and for sure if you can’t analyze it in a way or another, it will make you suffer more and longer than the needed. As can be guessed this post is mostly addressed to people dealing with personal and relation problems, but I think in general it will be good for everyone to learn how to cool down a bit and how to abide; the final scope remains to prevent stress to overwhelm us, by using our own natural means.

Who’s the enemy?

Basically, it’s all about stress and its causes, so first of all one needs to understand what stress is, because one can’t face an enemy if he doesn’t know it. Quoting Wikipedia definition

I suggest you to give a read to the link or to other internet sources about stress (it’s plenty out there), because they will prove interesting at the least, if not actually useful, by helping you to identify the source of some of those bad feelings that everyone is experiencing on a daily base. Anyhow, for our purposes here, we’ll deal chiefly with the “internal perception” kind, the one that we build up ourselves and that is based on our weak points, doubts and experiences of failures and, most important, with the distorted understanding we have of life and its fundamental elements.

Almost all painful feelings have their source in an incorrect way of looking at reality. When you uproot erroneous views, suffering ceases." — The Buddha, as written by Thich Nhat Hanh

To further quote Wiki:

That’s where the misunderstanding takes place: we think the demands exceed our ability to cope and then we suffer because of this. But why it is so?

Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it” - Kahlil Gibran

So as a natural process stress in itself isn’t totally negative (if anything, more than often it could be positive, at least stimulating), what makes it negative is the false perception of inadequacy we have.
Where it comes from then? It’s hard to say, as it is largely subjective as also stated above, but what I personally believe is that most of us are victim of social standards that are not meant to be supportive to the human needs but that, on the contrary, are set to squeeze out the most out of any single person; it’s arguable, I realize it, but that’s not the point here: whether one is stressed because he failed with professional stuff, because he feels like he is inadequate for relations or whatever, all of this is based on a concept of “standardization” and “perfection” that is mainly an aberration of the natural process of improvement that comes with evolution. One needs to have some goals in the life, but they have to be one’s goals and have to come from one’s own desires and liking. How hard is to distinguish between imposed goals and self-grown ones is obviously the issue here, but that’s what we are called to do as individuals and adults.

The Taking it Easy Approach

The best way to cope with life in general is to build up our own self-confidence; this is not only the best and most natural way to keep the things moving, but it is also the easiest solution to understand our own dreams and goals (it’s a two-ways business, while you work out your self-confidence you learn more about yourself and while learning more about yourself, you become better at building up your confidence) . As a general rule, what we should do as humans is to do what we like and to do it well. I can’t find straighter or clearer words to express this concept, but if I am to expand a bit about, I might add that each of us was born with certain talents, and that the best way to express ourselves at our highest potential is to pander to our natural inclinations and to cope with our own peculiar weaknesses.

That’s the starting and the ending point, of course in the middle we also have to deal with our human nature, that is fallacious by definition and that presents us with a full range of common troubles that everyone has to deal with and that indirectly define how much we will enjoy life.
The most common ones that immediately come to my mind: fear (of the future, of death, of change, of taking a decision, of failure and so on); regret (for something we did or we didn’t, more than often for a guilt we don’t have, also rumination about the past, etc.); negativism (not only towards life in general but towards ourselves in particular, also includes negative comparison with others and self-defeating positions); blaming (the most subtle one, we literally pile on others the responsibilities of our mistakes or we bestow the guilt for our inabilities or failures to troubled or disempowering acquaintances such as family or friends).

So what is this “taking it easy” all about? It’s simpler than one can think actually: by accepting our human limits and recognizing them as part of our unicity, we are able to cope with all the consequences of them and consequently give them the right position in the great scheme of life. Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes, well, he eats you.
Starting from here it shouldn’t be that hard to work on our own talents (which is what we are supposed to do in any case) but of course some cases are worth extra considerations, especially when it comes down to things that are almost completely out of our control.

Good Times, Bad Times

Luck is part of life: despite what the modern society has tried to instill in our minds, there’s no way to completely avoid the turns of the fate; sure, luck can be “helped” and one can prepare itself for many possible expected occurrences, none the less there are things which are impossible to forecast or to prevent, or that, when they happen, can trample over our life without us to be able to do much or something at all to stop them. I’m not a “believer” in the strict sense of the word, but as the time passed by, I learnt to become “fatalistic”, which is what I consider to be a pragmatic approach to luck: stuff happens, and we have to deal with the consequences.

The list is potentially infinite (both in positive and in negative), but I’ll pick some just to give a straighter idea of what I’m referring to: disease (both yours or of someone you are fond of); money problems (especially related to new situations in life such as kids or a diseased relative); job issues (especially when you lose it suddenly or you can’t do anything to prevent losing it); new “affections” (friends, new lovers/partners, kids; all of them have a tremendous impact when you can’t rationalize them); positive unexpected/improbable events (such as winning a lot of money, getting a super-cool job, etc; even such stuff can generate problems, at the best they will be destabilizing); people behavior (I’m referring to the fact that people changes over the years and might be affected by their own events, diseases etc); and so on. I’m reserving a special place for the death, as many of us seem to be unable to cope with the idea of it, not to speak of accepting it as the only absolute certainty of life. I believe that come to terms with the death is a fundamental process of becoming adult and a full grown human being (which implies that for me, many so called “adults” aren’t so at all) and that refusing its influence is foolish: we will die, and nothing will remain of us but our heirs and our memory; I guess that if one is really concerned about the future, such a fixed and dramatic event cannot be ignored, and even if you fully apply the “taking it easy philosophy”, you ought to understand that it’s impossible to postpone forever, and that is better to accept the truth and act accordingly. Also, those we love will die, and even those we would have never expected (and hoped) to die before us probably will, therefore it’s better to be ready and think about this before it will happen, because it will be painful enough even if you are prepared for it.

Anyhow, I’m convinced that as long as one is able to stand on his/her own legs almost anything can be dealt with: the important remains to accept our nature, to always keep in mind who we are and what we are good at and never accept an event as completely detrimental/disruptive; the best would be to learn how to turn each problem into a positive challenge, but even only learning how to put any event on its right place is a big step forward to having a happy life, IMO.

General hints

There’s some stuff that I believe is common to everyone, in positive and in negative, so I’ll spend few more specific words about, because I think they are central issues that many have to face.

Making a decision: the matter in itself is worth thousands of words, so I’ll try to be as concise and clear as possible. Life is made of choices, and the consequences of them is what shape our life. The most important thing to remember: avoiding to make a decision for the fear of the consequences is the worst mistake you can do in your life, because this is what freedom is based on. It’s only when we make choices with a clear understanding of the consequences, that we are exercising our free will. We have to fight the fear of making a mistake with any means we have, and in particular by accepting the fact that we fail and that what is important is the will to do good, despite of the final outcome. I guess that's the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin' itself.

Copying with “failure”: another huge matter for the records, as it includes every kind of failure, such as “failing to find a partner”, “failing to find/maintain a job”, “failing with regards to own family expectations” and so on. I’ve already wrote that the root of the problem here is represented by the idea that others could set our standards or that we are in fact “supposed to do something within a certain age or with some minimum results”, which is utterly wrong because it does not take into account our unicity and the talents we have been gifted with. I’d like to expand anyway on two more specific points: first, the feeling of failure you get when you know you did everything possible to achieve a goal you deeply desired (most commonly related to finding a partner); we ought to accept the fact that even if we believe strongly in something, we might utterly fail at it.. it’s most probably the hardest thing to cope with, but ruminating about being unable to achieve something is absolutely useless and self-damaging. It’s much better to improve ourselves about if we can, or to abide and move on. Secondly, I personally found really annoying when I realize I failed to take it easy, which is something that happens quite often indeed: the truth is that we all need to learn, day by day, so don’t get discouraged if you often fail along your path, because if you’ll maintain the right tendency you’re going to improve more and more. Perfection is not for this life, but a good approximation can be reached, as long as one keeps fighting for the right reasons.

Do it for yourself: another important point for me is that any extra effort I do, I do it for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not speaking about egoistic behaviours, but I’m referring to the fact that if I am to improve myself in something, I want to do it for myself and not for anyone else. If we think that we do something because we have to in order to satisfy someone else’s request/standards, usually we fail; it is fundamental to understand that the process of improvement comes from inside and that only if we are doing it for our own good we will be able to turn the distress into eustress. To be more specific: doing things for the others is absolutely positive, but the feelings have to be positive too; an example: coping with a peculiar vice or inclination of your partner to keep the relation alive and enjoy it the better is really good, while doing the same just to avoid issues is wrong and won’t bring to a real solution on the long term.

Negativism and blaming: the two things goes together, that’s why I’d like to say something more about. The most dangerous mental process here is that we can transfer the negativism we have about ourselves over the others and start to blame them, such as “it’s their standards that are too high, not me that is not good at this” and similar stuff. It is perfectly fine to recognize that we can’t reach a goal due to our own limitations, but it’s totally wrong to blame others because of this. As said many times, we are what we are and we have to accept our weak points, and so it’s unfair to avoid recognizing our limits by pointing the finger towards others. Besides, blaming brings to hating, which is the worst feeling you can have in general, one that should be avoided with all means.

On the verge of the breakdown: it happens, nothing to say. Almost every person have to face that period in life during which everything seems to crumble and nothing is at the right place like it was before. There are multiple reasons, but basically it is all based on two points: luck and change, which are both fundamental parts of everyone's life. The fact is that we naturally tend to build our own confidence around some fixed points, which we believe (or hope), won't change, such as family, job success, partners or anything in general that might give positive feelings.. unfortunately nothing is forever in life, so it could happen (and it happens, believe me) that one or possibly more of these things changes or drammatically worsen in a short period, thus quickly bringing you on the verge of a breakdown: depending on the personal character and what is involved it could be really easy to lose the track; if this happens, the best thing to do is to cool down, take some time to stay alone and actively think about the whole situation, because the most part of the problems/changes can be solved or coped with just a little effort. More than in any other situation it is important to remind ourselves that luck isn't something you can make a deal with and that it's fundamental to find our new balance in the situation, more than losing time with rumination and regret. And if things does not work out as expected, this could be the right moment to give a full review to our life and possibly decide for a sensible turn in its path.. not all that is bad ends bad, and sometimes bad luck brings along good luck.

Dealing with confrontational people: the category might well include hostile and aggressive people too, as long as abusers, bullies and such. Confrontational people in general represents the worst of humanity in my opinion, especially when those persons use their position/privileges/bond with you to get the edge over you; this is one of the most stressfull thing one has to face in life (it happens at work with the boss or older colleagues, at home with your parents/relatives or your partner, and so on). For what concerns bullying, we already have a very comprehensive thread here; I'd just add this simple assertion to the matter: when the victims of bullying begin to show backbone and stand up for their rights, the bully will often back down (experienced it on my skin, bullies are usually rather coward people). Despite of the reason why these persons are pushing on you, I believe it's important to define few firm points on how to deal with them:

- first, keep cool and try to avoid excalation; calm is a virtue of the strong it is said, and it's often so according to my experience.. in particular beeing cool will work splendidly with those who are trying to provoke you (more than with those who try to control you), it might even turn the whole game back to the abusive persons, making them stressed because they don't seem to be able to affect you!
- second, keep safe and avoid direct confrontation if you can; this is subjective to the situation of course, but in those cases where all you need to do is going over the specific moment, just do so (such as arguing with a stranger in the road or with a colleague that you know you'll see only few hours a day). Whenever it comes to close relations, it's obviuosly impossible to avoid confrontation, so you should try to mediate as a first mean (also using assertive comunication), expressing your position with calm but firmly; whenever you are stuck in a case in which the confrontational person shows clear signs of instability, ask whether he or she is open to receiving professional help. Should you encounter resistance, consider asking someone whom the aggressor holds in high regard to assist you in an intervention.
- third, try to understand why that person is acting in that way; if possible, despersonalize and put yourself in other's shoes: most of the times you'll find that their actions are a result of an inner suffering. This won't excuse their aggressivity of course, but mindfulness of their struggles can help you handle them with more detachment and equanimity. There's a quote I love, from Paramhansa Yogananda: “Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others"; funny, yet totally true. Mediocrity has a lot to do with confrontational people, especially when you show continuosly that you are "better" by only being a "normal person".
- fourth, I left for last the most important one: make up your own boundaries, make them clear to the rest of the world and defend them energetically. We are what we decide to be and what we try to become, so in no way we should renounce to ourselves in order to reduce the stress of dealing with aggressive/confrontational people (or in any other case, for what matters). Fundamental human rights are a good starting point (such as the right to be respected or to express your opinion), to which you should add your own personal believes: remember that as long as you will stay withing your boundaries and do not affect others, you'll have the right to do what you prefer (at least morally, if not legally speaking). Once you have set your firm points, and made them clear, be ready to deploy the consequences. The final goal might vary depending on the person you are dealing with, in general it's important to understand that the goal is to obtain/regain respect from that person and to turn confrontation into cooperation. Whenever a person isn't able to respect your boundaries and dosen't want to deal or accept the consequences, simply consider to remove that person from your life, even if it's a very close one. When we die, we die alone, said a famous italian song, and that's so damned true dudes!

Some final considerations:

Giving advices is much easier than actually following them yourself, so I understand perfectly that feeling of aversion that one might have when he is told how to solve his own problems; I myself have to share my part of pain and uncertainty and I’m not always that good at taking it easy, but I strongly remain convinced that what is really important is the attitude and not the result, and that in the end it’s all about how you tried to live your life. The Dude abides. I don't know about you but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' he's out there. The Dude. Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners. Shoosh.