STOP! Stress Avoidance Trap

STOP! Stress Avoidance Trap

At the time of writing, we are coming to the end of the COVID restrictions – at least for now ….

Whilst we have enjoyed, or been challenged, by this change in our normal routines of life, we have also been in a place to pause from life as it was. Busy! So, with vaccines rolling out and as we continue into a full-on going everywhere, doing everything, type of lifestyle again – it’s a good time to re-evaluate stress.

Stress is both useful and not useful. To think about stress as a bad thing is both factually inaccurate and counter-productive to your well-being, research shows that short term stress (not chronic stress) is a useful thing. So, before try to ‘get rid’ of stress it’s important to know that aversion is not the best therapy.

Countless studies and clinical trials have ascertained that regular practice of mindfulness mediation will help you lower stress levels and manage stress more appropriately, but the practice is not about ‘getting rid’ of stress, it’s about awareness of it, and whatever else in happening in your experience of life as it unfolds in that moment.

The aversion trap is closed every time we try to avoid, get rid of, bury, or divert our unwanted thoughts and feelings.

We all like to feel ok and if we feel good and we experience a happy mental and emotional state we try to hold on to it. In the same way we feel not so good about something we use aversion tactics to push away the mental and emotional states we don’t like.

Our likes and dislikes are formed due to the causes and conditions of our life experiences, and they help form patterns of the mind and the emotion that drive our behaviour. If we continually use the aversion trap rather than learning from our felt stress, we can become ill. Chronic, or ongoing, stress is related to mental ill health and life-threatening conditions and disease.

In mindfulness meditation there is a core principle of cultivating a non-judgemental awareness – allowing all thoughts, sounds, sensations, and all other perceived experience to come and go just as it is.

The aim is simply to be aware, to ‘be with’ whatever is happening, at the time it is happening – because it IS happening.

With regular mindfulness practice we can learn to stop trying to avoid or get rid of stress but instead use our awareness of that stress to change our mindset and patterns of reactional behaviour. We do this by applying an open and gentle curiosity to what’s happening in our mind or emotion, through awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and any places in the body we feel the experience of what is happening.

With this gentle, inquiring, attention we can build awareness and begin to get insights and understandings that can help us understand some of our behaviour drivers.

Regular mindfulness practice builds a mental, emotional, and psychological resilience which, in time, will allow us a mind spacious enough to choose and respond with what to do next in stressful situations, rather than behave out of an unthinking, habitual reaction.

So, where to begin?

There are many aids, apps, mindfulness programmes and meditations on offer on the net to help you manage more and stress less. You can start here by accessing our resources page with free or downloadable meditations. If you are new to mindfulness a short starter practice is this simple STOP technique to ‘check in’ and what’s happening in you. It’s particularly useful at times of felt stress.

S.T.O.P.

S.            Stop, find a quiet place or space, close your eyes if your comfortable to do so.

T.            Take a few slow breaths gathering your attention to your body, let the outbreath be longer.

O.           Observe what’s happening – in your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. Name it.

P.           Pause, breathe slowly while bringing your attention to the belly. Proceed.

See more awareness and mindfulness practices on our meditations page.

AL