Authentic meditation practice can help us change our perception of stress and our reaction to it. “Stress” is a catchall term that covers a variety of reactions to unwelcome circumstances, from anxiety to panic. When we allow stress to run the show, it impacts our bodies and our minds. We often use the word “stress,” meaning we often feel the pressure of having to deal with the difficult situations we find ourselves in.
It’s when we notice that we’re overwhelmed, when we notice the suffering, that we look for help. In many ways stress is a good motivator; when something hurts, we’re going to try to fix it, to do something about it. At the same time we can also try to prevent it from happening in the first place.…
The mechanisms of stress have two components: how we appraise the stress and how we handle it.
How do we respond?
How do we react?
What do we do?
If the gap between what we think we can do and what we need to do isn’t too wide, we can try to handle that. But if the gap is really too large, we can’t. This is where meditation can really help.
Regarding the first component, how do we interpret our resources and how do we interpret the demands? It’s subjective, obviously—it has a lot to see with perception. And our perception can be trained or modeled with meditation.
What’s the connection?
When we practice meditation we develop a different perception of things because we are not so engaged with them. We don’t identify ourselves so much with the problems. When we have more distance, when we are less caught up in the situations and emotions that causes stress our problems are perceived as being more manageable. It’s as if you took a step back and observed the whole picture from a distance. This is the first way that meditation can help—by allowing us to appraise stressful situations with more detachment.
We can go even farther. We can disrupt the habit of seeing these situations as problems and begin to see them as challenges. If our main motivator is to avoid everything that disturbs us and be comfy, then of course it doesn’t work. But if our motivator is to grow as human beings, whatever is in the way is the way. Anything that might be seen as a problem is recognized as an opportunity to know ourselves better and to grow.
So in a way, turning the perception of a problem into a challenge makes a huge difference on how we appraise it.