Written by Kes A. LaGuerre
Google defines Stress as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. This pretty much defines my life until around 2009. So what changed? Externally, nothing but internally, I was able to create a major shift in my thinking that has allowed life’s so called “stresses” to challenge me, empower me, and subsequently act as catalyst for my growth.
All my life I’ve dealt with stress very poorly. In school, my academic performance was terrible and I had the permanent role as the class clown and troublemaker. Outside of school I got heavily involved in smoking weed and social drinking at the age of 15, choosing to be numb rather than to deal with the everyday challenges that every teen has to go through.
Sadly this is the way that the majority of us choose to deal with stress. Whether it’s drugs, daily drinking, or sitting in front of the television for 3 hours a night. Even that daily glass of wine becomes a crutch. It creates a weakness in us and we lose our natural abilities to deal with the stresses of life. And so I did. For the next few years I avoided the majority of life’s necessary stress, which causes others to grow and mature, by living in a fog.
I now know what the purpose of stress truly is. The stress and troubles that we encounter in our lives daily are a gift from our creator, meant to push us towards growth. The thing that stresses us today should not be able to stress us a week from now, a month, or a year from now. If it does then how have we grown as individuals? How have we matured? How are we ready for greater responsibilities in life? I think that many of us have this notion that life should be stress free, that we have somehow earned the right to a trouble free life. Well, the truth is that life is not without its trials and tribulations and we all, whether poor or rich, white or black, male or female, must go through them. It wasn’t until my second year in prison that I truly began to understand these words.
My choice of behaviors and ways of dealing with stress lead me down a path where I made some very stupid choices. Choices that I have since learned from, grown from, and have been made wiser as a result of. One of these choices landed me in Federal prison for a term of 7 years. It was in this place that I had to learn to handle stress, of a whole new level, in a proper way. The consequence of not doing so could have possibly meant my life or an extended stay in a place that I despised so much.
It was also in this place where I witnessed how stress and the inability to deal with it could break a man down. How hardened criminals were reduced to emotional wrecks after facing the realities of the time they would be spending away from their families, or in many cases, the reality of having to spend the rest of their lives away from their families. It was here that I learned that a man, when faced with the choice of growing and learning the right action to take or remaining in his childlike irresponsible behavior would more often than not choose the road of least resistance. He would choose the very behavior that was causing him a greater longer lasting pain just to avoid the temporary pain of change. As Les Brown says, “We rather stay in familiar hells than to venture to strange Heavens.”
And so it is all over the world. When a person lights a cigarette to “calm down,” simultaneously firing up the cancer inside of their lungs. When a person pours a hard drink to “relax,” not knowing that they are reinforcing the habit of alcoholism in their brain. Or the person who plays the pornography video to escape into their fantasies, meanwhile they feed the destructive beast of their animal nature. This uneven exchange is happening all over the world constantly, all because we never really learn the ways of dealing with stress.
Well I did. When I was behind those walls I made a promise to myself, to my family, and to God that I wouldn’t do a thing to make what was already a bad situation any worse. So that meant at all costs I would refrain from my primary modes of dealing with stress, weed and fighting… although there was always a reason to fight in prison.
At first it was extremely difficult. I knew why I did not want to react negatively, or without first thinking, but I still wasn’t truly dealing with my stress, I was keeping it bottled up. This posed a greater threat to myself and to others around me. How many people do we encounter who are the passive-aggressive types? Unable to confront the actual source of their stress or frustration they lash out in other, unwarranted ways. Well, I did not want that. I was truly ready for a change and I believe that was the key.
Why do you want to have a successful outcome in dealing with your problems? Why is it important to you? If you can figure that out and truly hold on to it your success rate in dealing with stress will increase tremendously.
The next thing that I needed was a system. I began to explore the world of meditation and deep breathing. I researched many different schools of thought in these areas and as I implemented what I was learning I slowly became more adept at dealing with stressful situations. Life, as always, was my school and I utilized every opportunity to practice. When someone would say something to me that crossed the line or a situation would occur at home, which I could not control, I would immediately take a deep breath, followed by another even deeper breath. After about 5 breaths I would refocus my mind on the picture of what I wanted from my life over the next 20 years, the next 5 years, the next week, the rest of that day. I would review my “why” to gain perspective of what was truly important. It sounds like a lot to occur in a moment but the truth is if you practice regular meditation and visualization then that picture is always in the front of your mind. Stress becomes a weight that strengthens it.
Finally, after I’ve moved past the stressor and truly dealt with it, not just repressed it for some later surprise visit, I pat myself on the back. I reinforce my actions as well as analyze anything I could have done differently or better in the situation. This habit has helped me to maintain a positive system in dealing with stress.
Dealing with stress is something I continue to work at every day because life brings new stressful situations every day. But by having a system from which to build I have found the last few years of my life to be tremendously smoother than prior to having a system worked out. Stress will always come but by keeping a clear head it won’t derail me in life, only push me to newer heights. I am able to steadily move forward to my goals and not lose precious time to anger, frustration, and helplessness.
I cannot stress enough (pun intended) the importance of formulating your own individualized system for dealing with stress. You cannot avoid life’s challenges. Be real with yourself and ask: “Am I handling these challenges in the best way possible for me?” You don’t want to look back 30, 50 years from now and find that much of your life has been wasted and many of your relationships ruined because you never learned to properly deal with stress.
HelpGuide.org had a great article on stress and the ways to deal with it. They list a four-step system of Avoiding, Altering, Adapting, and Accepting. “Managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. Stress management involves changing the stressful situation when you can, changing your reaction when you can’t, taking care of yourself, and making time for rest and relaxation.”
Stress can either be a tool for our growth or a tool for our destruction. Ultimately that decision is ours.
Kes A. LaGuerre is a Motivational Speaker, Author, and Student. He is seeking to impact the world by sharing the wisdom that he used to transform his life. You can learn more at www.keslaguerre.com