Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

To Beat Your Stress, Know Your Stress

When my husband began teaching Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR), I was eager to take one of his 10-week courses.  I know that MBSR is a highly effective way to reduce medical symptoms, manage chronic pain, ease stress, and relieve psychological distress based on more than 30 years of proven medical research.

Honestly, few of us escape the ravages of stress in modern life.  Stress has without question played an overbearing role in my own life.  Post traumatic stress has etched unhelpful grooves into my brain that can sometimes turn on alarm bells at the least provocation.  Fortunately, we now have tools like MBSR to retrain and rewire the brain and modulate the stress response.

To beat stress, the first step is to know your stress.  At the start of the MBSR course, I received a simple, open-ended “Stress Assessment” to complete.  I took my time – a few days, actually – to explore all the causes of stress in my life.

I wasn’t surprised by the “biggies”.  It was the small stressors that caught me unaware.  For example, I noticed how I get amped up when other people have a problem.  If someone loses their key or is running late, I’m suddenly stressed out about it.  It was very eye-opening to observe this blended response.  Seeing it was the beginning of loosening it.

I also became aware of how managing the small details of life tends to wear on me.  I need to choose and lead a simple life for my own peace of mind.  Less stuff means less stress for me.  I’m paring down accordingly.

The Stress Assessment

Have you ever had the chance to assess the stress factors in your life?  If not, you might want to use this stress assessment to start getting to know your stress.

Stress Assessment

List up to ten situations or health issues that you perceive as current stressors in your life.  Be as specific as possible.  Next to each entry rate these factors or situations on a scale of 1-10 as follows:

  • 1 – not very stressful
  • 2 − 4 mildly stressful
  • 5 − 7 moderately stressful
  • 8 − 10 very stressful

If you can, give yourself a few days and watch for stress triggers in your life.  There may be hidden ones that don’t come immediately into your mind.

Stress affects the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, nervous, and immune systems.  When we get stuck in an ongoing cycle of stress reactivity it can and, most likely, will lead to disorders, disease, and psychological distress.

But we can break free from stress reactivity and learn healthy ways to respond to stress.  And that means more happiness and ease.  Beating stress begins with knowing your stress factors.

Did you take the Stress Assessment?  What did you discover?

Recommended Reading:  Full Catastrophe Living, Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.



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  1. Yes – the small stressors always come as a shock / surprise – depending on which way we look at them. It is probably because we already recognize the big ones. 🙂 Our mind has already accepted them. It is the unexpected that freaks us out. There was a time, about a year ago, when I thought I was at the end of my tether – and I normally consider myself quite a thermostat, you know? Obviously I had to step back and take stock – and I made a note of all the things that stressed me out with a scale of 1 – 10.

    I was quite stunned at the trivia that turned up. Quite like some projects that take up 80% of our effort and time and pay 20% of our income :-). It is a great exercise in itself as it allows us to take action and eliminate most of that which pulls us down.

    Like an annual review at a job, it is always good to appraise ourselves periodically, if only to stay healthy.

    Great read, Sandra. Thank you. Love, Vidya

    • Really, Vidya, you captured my experience precisely! It’s the trivia that gets to me. I love the way you describe yourself as “quite a thermostat”! I don’t think we ever become fully immune to stress and there will be the cycles in life when it starts to pile up. The wisdom is knowing when and how to pull back! You seem to be mastering that art!

  2. While your message and the insights that you provide are absolutely wonderful…the title says it all: “to beat your stress, know your stress”.

    I spent years “pushing through” convincing my being to give 100%, without stopping to properly nourish or refresh. It is no wonder that I became extremely ill, which was my wakeup call to re-organize my life. Investing full presence within the practice of unfolding has not only dissolved my stress, but amplified inner peace, allowing me to experience “busyness” in a day, but with flow. I think we don’t always realize the impact that stress has on our entire being..physically, emotionally, spiritually…and how burying it/avoiding it/pushing through it continues to wear us down, until we take the time to identify it, and then as you have shared, to process through it.

    Thank you for reflecting awareness upon such an imp0rtant topic 🙂

    • Hi Joy,

      I think you are right on target when you say that we don’t always realize the impact that stress has on our entire being! In fact, I think we all need more education on this beginning at an early age. I love the way you dissolve stress through full presence!

  3. Edith

    “I need to choose and lead a simple life for my own peace of mind. Less stuff means less stress for me. ”
    –This is what really jumped out at me. I am also trying to simplify my life, to prioritize, spend more time sitting in silence, do some of what I love, just be. And yes, stuff=stress!

    • Hi Edith,

      So nice to “see” you! I think we may all be different in this regard, but I know for myself and for this time in my life that I need simplicity. It sounds like we are on the same wave! All my love to you!

  4. jean sampson

    Stress, who me? Well, the little things that stress me are fiddling around on this thing and not leaving quite enough time to get ready to go wherever I need to go. I always make it to wherever, but I could get there early and be relaxed and cool instead of flustered and frazzled. I have been thinking about sitting down and writing out all of the things that I make harder because I am not very disciplined about my ‘puter time. And I REALLY do enjoy my time on -line and I get a lot out of it. I am thinking about unsubscribing from things that are getting repetitive or are just come-on’s to get me to buy nutritional supplements. It is not a big thing but it is a small, wearing thing and I would like to confront it consciously!

    • This is such a great example, Jean! It’s so interesting how these extra moments on the computer can add to the stress of our life. Then it takes extra time to sort it out and disconnect from what doesn’t work so it’s not easy to cut the cycle. I admire you willingness and wish you the best with confronting this “small” thing consciously!

  5. I can so relate to this post as I’ve been dealing with the results of ‘minor’ stressors the past year and a half. Every time the chiropractor told me to reduce my stress, I was puzzled as I didn’t feel very stressed in my life – because I was looking for big stressors! Ouch! The impact of that delay was greater than I’d have liked.

    Great post Sandra!

    • Hey Sandi,

      We can start a new trend: “look for the small stressors in life”! It’s inspiring to see how you totally see this now and are taking steps to shift it around. Sorry for the Ouch! Thanks goodness for a good chiropractor!

  6. MBSR’s a great program, with so many benefits, and anyone can learn it. It’s pretty much universally applicable to medical problems, so lots of doctors are trying to get patients into it. We did a comparison study (before/after) of PET scans when I was in imaging school. Big improvements in patients’ ability to manage chronic pain, manage compulsive thinking and reduce addiction cravings.

    • Hi Mike,
      Those results are really impressive! Thanks for sharing them with us. I’m a huge fan of MBSR now for all the reasons that you state and will probably be writing about it a bit more. Thanks for your official medical seal of approval!

    • We should totally start a new movement, the Transformation of Small Stressors, TOSS 😉

  7. Sandra, I’m at the 75+ number – is that normal:) ?

    Just kidding of course. I too tend to stress about smaller things rather than bigger ones, which is both good and bad. Good because the big things don’t stress me out but bad because many little things do.

    Stress sometimes motivates too or is that adrenaline? And stress helps us get into action. Can stress be a good thing:) I wonder? I know physically and mentally probably not but as far as getting things done, stress helps! For example, I’m stressed about meeting a work deadline tomorrow – which I know will make me get it done (as soon as I finish commenting on this post of course!)

    • Hi Vishnu,

      Yes, 75+ is very good! 🙂 You’re so funny. Maybe stress can be a good thing sometimes, I don’t know! I think some level of stress is inevitable in life and it all depends on learning to moderate our response. Good luck on getting your work done without stressing too much!

  8. Hi Sandra — that sounds like a valuable thing to notice — that you tend to get anxious when it seems like there is something anxiety-provoking going on in someone else’s life. I have that kind of reaction sometimes to conflict between other people, even people I don’t know — my own heart rate accelerates a little.

  9. Hi Chris,

    We’re wired to respond to conflict, aren’t we? So I understand why that happens to you. It’s good to notice it, isn’t it? Then we can cut the cycle. Thanks for sharing that example.

  10. I found that some of the things I stress about are the very things I do because I enjoy them–like martial arts. That made me stop and think! I don’t stress as much as I used to about the little things like everyday aggravations (like having to have my back porch light fixture replaced). But there are some big things that weigh heavy on my mind. A constant lesson in letting go. Very enlightening process. Thanks for calling it to my attention.

    • Galen,

      That’s really interesting that you stress about things you enjoy, but it also makes sense. When we care it seems we are more likely to stress. Martial arts has a performance element too. That would stress me! Yes, it’s all about letting go, isn’t it? Thanks for your thoughts.

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