Sara arrives to Greg’s office and is visibly upset. She sits and talks about her week. The stressors in her life are ever present. In fact, one stressor in particular is out of control. Through her practice, she is aware of how it affects her body and emotional state. Unfortunately, for right now, the stress remains in her life. She sees how she spends days after each interaction rehashing everything that was said, wondering if she should have said this or that, or if only she would have done this or that. She also worries about what she will do when she has to meet them again. What will she say, how should she act, what if she did things differently. And so it goes. She feels it is hopeless.
Greg talks to her about stress reaction and stress response. Responding to something is different than reacting to it. We react to lots of things, especially our key stressors, based on habitual patterns. It’s often unconscious based on past experiences. When we get triggered by something or someone, we go into automatic reaction mode. Responding is a choice.
Consider any stimulus and its associated reaction, between the stimulus and reaction is a gap. It is with mindfulness that we want to widen the gap so that instead of reaction we are about to choose how we proceed or respond. Awareness is what widens the gap. It is like “bringing light to the darkness of mindless reactions. Once you can see them more clearly, you can choose to respond more skilfully.” *
Over time you will start to recognize your triggers. It is a great learning opportunity. Watching your reactions, watching with awareness as you feel the sensations, and move into a different relationship with the trigger where you are able to respond to the situation based on the present moment not based on habitual patterns.
The reality is that the stressor may never change. Changing it is most likely completely out of your control. But what is within your control is your respond to it. You get to decide that 100%. And with that control, brings peace of mind.
For this week, be mindful of when you react and when you respond. Don’t forget to practice mindful breathing and/or eating!
“Never pass up a good trigger.” (Ana Forrest)
* A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (Chapter 2, p. 29 )