The Momentum of Stress

What can we do when the negative momentum we’ve talked ourselves into feels like a train we’re doomed to ride forever?

*Lia is a 6th grader who takes her academics seriously. She will turn in her work for assignments days before they are due, sending emails to her teachers to confirm that she did what was asked of her correctly. Lia has yet to earn less than an A in all her classes. She is personable, astute, and kind.

Unfortunately, there’s an invisible but real force taking over Lia’s life: anxiety. She has trouble sleeping, finds herself breaking down in tears over things that before wouldn’t have bothered her, and describes herself as unable to “stop the worrying” that haunts her throughout the day.

 Lia is not alone. Several of the middle school students I have the gift of working with are manifesting signs of anxiety and depression in the almost ubiquitous cloak we know too well: stress. And while there’s good and bad stress, our perception of those stressors makes a world of difference.

Lia met with me last week after class and talked about her inability to “stop the worrying.” 

Lia referred to herself as someone who “struggles with anxiety.” Her self-diagnosis alone powerfully affects her perceptions. So, the world around her offers up opportunities to worry, thus creating more domino-like effect, stress-inducing scenarios for her. Lia’s belief in her self-diagnosis has created a momentum of anxiety that feeds on itself like a rat snake.

The same domino effect of negative self-talk can manifest in depression. When we are regularly telling ourselves it’s hopeless, things never work out for me, or a slew of other fatalistic misconceptions, the Universe mirrors back to us “proof” that our belief was correct.

So, what can we do when the negative momentum we’ve talked ourselves into feels like a train we’re doomed to ride forever?

Think of a spinning top. What happens when gravity starts to take over? It finally teeters to a stop. When anxiety or depression hit a high point, know that it too will pass. You cannot remain in the high anxiety or low depression forever.

Typically, we wake up with a fresh start, a new day for a new momentum. Baby steps.

Lia asked, “How do I stop my thoughts?”

“Get out ahead of them, before the momentum starts on that train to worry. Do one thing that pleases you today. Write three things you are grateful for each morning you wake up and each night before you go to bed. Listen to music you like.”

Whether a teenager or a grownup, we all experience stress. Yet while stress is unavoidable, building momentum in the direction of peace is in our control. Stress is a continuum, and our self-talk determines whether we take a harrowing ride on an uncontrollable track or experience an adventurous journey.

Lia has altered her label since we spoke last week. She is no longer someone who “struggles with anxiety” but now refers to herself as “conscientious and capable.” And that altered shift in her perception is the foundation for a rewarding momentum.

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the person.

An Alternate Reality

There’s a greater reality that technology will never surpass or achieve...

Our perception is everything. How we interpret the world around us and our engagement with it greatly determines our lives in both quality and creation. Check out an Amazon review for almost any product and you’ll discover five star and one-star reviews—for the very same item! Listen to couples—happily married, on the brink of divorce and every state in between—and you’ll hear two different tales regarding the same relationship.

Technology is in the midst of creating an ever-evolving AR (Augmented Reality), where you can simulate life in an alternate world (i.e., bungee jumping in Costa Rica, skiing in Aspen, playing tennis at Wimbledon).  The pandemic has caused us to gravitate to this screen-laden world where attendance is taken virtually or noted in the clever acronym, IRL (In Real Life). Our life lessons are growing more comprised of chats, texts, emojis and screenshares, where an icon is considered sufficient (albeit online) presence.

I’m not knocking the myriad of gifts that arrive as a by-product of our tech-savvy world. I’ll be the first to admit that I love knowing my lessons can be found easily on a universal learning platform that our school uses, lessons that I create and decide when to share with a convenient click of a button. Children with underlying health issues are no longer prevented from engaging in learning now that we offer a streamlined learning program; students can learn at their own pace, replaying a lesson for greater understanding, translating into their first language where necessary.

But there’s a greater reality that technology will never surpass or achieve: the ability of humans to alter their perceptions and by extension, create their own reality. As the late Dr. Wayne Dyer said (author of The Shift

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

The other day, one of my 6th graders sounded palpably upset when I announced an assignment to read a few chapters independently that week. His icon glowed as he spoke:

“I feel so much pressure. My head hurts. This book is hard for me to enjoy.”

The boy is a voracious reader and extremely bright. His voice was tight with unshed tears. The stress he was feeling was his reality, his perceived reality.

I reminded him of how much he loved to read. I asked him what was different this time.

“I like to read at night, under a blanket with my favorite stuffed animal beside me.”

“Then that’s what you’ll do,” I said.

Oh, how he let out an audible sigh. Gone was the shaky, holding-back-tears in his voice. Gone was his perception that the world was closing in on him.

We are no different from my sweet 6th grader. We all possess the power to perceive the best and worst at every moment. My student had perceived me as “safe” to articulate his anxiety, which in turn, created an alternate reality for him. 

Consider your own life and how you perceive it. If there’s an area you aren’t happy with, how might you alter your understanding of it? Each moment is a gift for you to interpret and manifest a different reality.