Stress is a psychological and physiological response I experience when I am sandwiched between my desire to get something and my inability to get it. Stress is a slow killer. It damages health, causes depression, makes people violent. In extreme cases, it makes people suicidal.
There are various strategies to solve the problem of stress. Some of these are cure oriented i.e. they target relief from stress. While some other prevention oriented i.e. they work on root cause of stress. Different people follow different combinations of these methods and strategies.
First method to deal with stress is to just vent it. Stress is not a problem as long as you can take it out. Go for a run, lift weights in the gym, shout and scream in an empty room or consume mild quantities of alcohol. Simple and seemingly benign things like biting nails also help. One could also take a destructive course. For example, pick a fight, hurt someone or oneself, take excessive drugs or alcohol.
This method works surprisingly well and in various scenarios, this could very well be the main solution for stress. Especially the constructive ways to release stress, when developed to the point of a routine, can provide various side benefits like better health (gym, running) or a better family atmosphere (washing dishes). Even so, this is not a perfect solution to the problem for two reasons. First, it doesn’t really solve the root cause of the problem. Secondly, if it is not directed to constructive methods like running or washing dishes, it can turn to destructive channels like hurting someone or alcoholism.
Second method is to have undying belief in the human ability to prevail over situations and to have indefinite patience to keep trying. This is also a very constructive method and generally appeals to accomplishment oriented people. A lot of people have changed the course of history without destroying themselves. They have done it by having an undying belief in their ability to do something and an infinite patience to survive the period when it was not happening.
This method is also not without its shortcomings. The main flaw is that human beings can’t prevail over all situations. Whatever it is that you are trying to do, may or may not happen. Everyone with a habit of finding one’s own way comes to the realization at some point that they can’t always do it. Regardless of the stories of human spirit that broke mountains, changed the course of river and took us to moon, there are things that are doable at a given point in time and and then there are things that are not. The biggest flaw of this method is that people can go in a state of depression when they come to realize that their current endeavor is beyond them. That they have hit a wall they can’t break, climb or go around. They just need to turn back. When this method fails, it breaks people and it can years before they are rebuilt and ready to roll again.
Yet another method to solve the stress problem is to not want anything. Not wanting anything itself is a hard problem to solve. Longing for things seems so fundamental to the human nature that not wanting something seems equivalent to not being human or not being alive. There are states of existence when mental activity ceases and people experience the lack of wants. Deep sleep is an obvious example of such a state. Meditation is yet another example for those who have practiced it.
The effect of this method is absolute in nature i.e. you experience true lack of wants and hence lack of stress in your deep sleep. However, the main problem of this method is its transitory nature. After all, how long can you be in deep sleep? Eventually, you’ll toss and turn and wake up. Even the dreaming state is full of wants and can cause fair amount of stress. Other states like meditating, listening to music, watching children play etc are also time bound. They are like escape rooms where you can spend some time but not your entire life.
Final method is to disconnect with your wants. The line of thinking is that wanting something is human nature but wanting something specific is just a situational thing. So, it’s hard to get rid of the mental activity that wants things but one could disconnect one’s identity from the specific wants. That way, even if there are wants in the psychological space, the person remains unaffected and hence unstressed. There is a whole spectrum of strategies in this realm.
Escapism is the very first and probably the simplest. Just escape from the situation that’s generating stress. Many times, it’s not only possible but also the right solution. For example, if the long commute is bothersome, it’s not only simple but also healthy to find an arrangement that doesn’t require long commute. Unfortunately, it applies to a handful of situations and many times, it’s not even the right solution. Making a relationship work would be much better than walking out of it. Also, escapism as primary strategy to solve stress problem is outright bad. One cannot escape from everything. Also, there is joy in overcoming problems and making things happen whenever it is within our means.
Surrender is another strategy. It usually manifests itself in the form of religion by surrendering to an invisible hand (often called The God). However, it’s not limited to religion. One could surrender to a variety of things e.g. cult leaders, authority figures, system, providence, principles etc. While this strategy is harder to adopt than escapism, it’s a very stable method once a person gets established in it. Like many other methods and strategies, this is not without its own issues. First, it’s very hard to surrender. It may be more work than just living with the stress. Many people find the spirit of surrender during the time of extreme adversity. But when the world becomes normal, they go back to being their original self. An even bigger problem is that it makes people vulnerable to various types of con jobs. People can go through more stress when they are taken advantage of. Worse still, they could find hard to trust anyone anymore.
Yet another strategy is to reshape one’s identity so as to exclude all wants from the identity system. Various spiritual stuff like mindfulness, meditative mood, knowing the Truth about oneself etc falls in this category. However, this is not limited to spiritualism. One could follow philosophy or intense introspection to get to the same effect. Some people claim to have just stumbled upon this. The idea is to directly realize that the wants are really not part of one’s identity. The primary benefit of this strategy is that effects are rather long lasting. The wants arising in the mind are part of the overall spectacle that the person sees but doesn’t get involved in. The problem is that this strategy is extremely hard to appreciate even at the intellectual level. It starts paying off immediately but the incremental improvement is gradual. Generally, it requires years or decades of investment.
Getting rid of stress is hard. Consciously or subconsciously, people develop different strategies that provide them different mileage. When the situation is more adverse than what they are capable of handling, they either improvise or get completely stressed out. Some times, they get destructive in thought, word or deed.
Regardless of the difficulty in getting rid of stress, being stress-free is a personal superpower. Everyone should have it.