Connect with people and places that matter to you

I have been involved in studying (and tackling) stress for decades. A number of things have stood out for me from my activity in this area. One important one is that there is a danger that, when pressures start to mount, people have a tendency to stop doing things that normally help them cope and keep pressures within manageable limits (and thereby avoid stress). Ironically, this then has the effect of making stress more likely: just as pressures are mounting, we start doing less of the things that counteract stress. For example, the person who really benefits from going to the gym regularly and is able to use that to keep pressures under control may reach the point, once pressures start to multiply, of not bothering to go to the gym – they don’t feel up to it. The person who gets a lot of benefit from talking over problems with trusted friends and colleagues may keep their own counsel and not say anything when the pressures reach a certain level – they don’t feel comfortable talking about it any more. People who cope with pressures through humour don’t think it is funny any more and withdraw into themselves, switching off the humour, thereby putting themselves in a situation where they feel the pressures more acutely.

Different people can experience this general trend in different ways. However, what my experience has taught me is that a recurring theme is the tendency to cut ourselves off from the people and places that matter to us. It is as if it is a self-protective mechanism. Once pressures start to bother us, we need to be spending more time with the people who matter to us, more time at the places that matter to us, but, in reality, what so often happens is that we do the opposite. Perhaps it is because we feel vulnerable and so want to withdraw into our shell, in the hope that we will feel safer that way. But, whatever the reason, the result is the same: at the very time we need the benefits of supportive people and the reassuring familiarity of places we know and love, we may choose to move away from them.

This has (at least) two sets of implications. First, it is important for ourselves. We need to be aware of this danger and be prepared to counteract it in any reasonable way we can. That is, we need to be prepared to fight the tendency to disconnect ourselves at the very time we would benefit from connecting. There is no set way of doing this, no guaranteed formula. However, there are plenty of options to explore. Think carefully about what might work for you. One possibility is to make two lists. List one: think about the people who matter to you. Who are the people whose company offers you something positive? Who are the people who help you recharge your batteries and feel good about yourself? List two: think about the places you have positive associations with. What are the places that give you a positive sense of well-being and comfort? Places can be important, because, if you are so tense that you can’t face spending time with people, there are still places that can have a renewing effect.

Second, we can – gently, sensitively, supportively – encourage others (without pressurising them) to connect more to their important people and places if we notice that this disempowering process is happening to them. We have to be very careful to make sure that this does not amount to kicking them when they are down – gently does it, and be prepared to back off quickly if it is clearly not what they want or is not something they are ready for yet.

So, connecting with people and places that matter to us is something we should not lose sight of, however much or little pressure we are under.

Get perspective – Look up at the stars

These days so many people seem to lead very busy, pressurised lives. One of the results of that can be a narrow focus on the last mistake, the next deadline and so on. It can so easily become the case that all we see is the pressure and the potential problems. This can especially be the case when work pressures combine with pressures at home (and, indeed, they can reinforce each other).

One of the dangers in situations like this is that we lose perspective, we lose sight of the bigger picture. We can easily start to think that all there is to life is pressure and problems. That can create a sense of defeatism and even cynicism and things can start to crowd in on us.

We can then get into an escalation situation. Problems seem to be greater than they really are. Solutions seem out of reach. Confidence goes down and a sense of foreboding gets greater. We can become trapped in a cocoon of negativity.

Although at times it can be more easily said than done, what can be a useful antidote to this is to look up at the stars, appreciate how big the universe and therefore how minor our concerns are by comparison.  The French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, made the famous comment that the vastness of the universe and its ‘eternal silences’ frightened him. I’m not sure about it being frightening, but perhaps unnerving. But, on a more positive note, it can help us put our own trials and tribulations in perspective.

There are billions of stars in a galaxy and more galaxies in the universe than there are grains of sand on the earth, so that should help to show just how small our pressures are in the overall scheme of things. This is not to belittle the importance of our concerns, but, rather to balance them out, to see them in perspective. That perspective should make us feel less pressurised and give us more strength to do what we need to do to move forward positively.

It is easy to understand how readily we can find ourselves in that situation where we feel surrounded by problems and challenges, perhaps wondering if there will be a more relaxed time. But, that does not alter the fact that it is not a good place to be or that there isn’t a better, more balanced way of looking at things.

So, it can be important to ask yourself whether your life is balanced in terms of its focus. Are you seeing your life and its pressures in perspective? Or is there a danger that your focus is too narrow and too negative? Also, what is happening in terms of the people around you? Are they influencing you in the direction of a narrow focus, or perhaps that is what you are doing to them?

There is no simple way to get a sense of perspective, but it is certainly worth the effort of trying to do so. It might be helpful to think about who wold be well placed to support you in this. Who do you know who has that knack of keeping a clear focus on their problems and pressures, but also seeing them as art of a wider picture? How might they help you do the same?