There is Nothing Stressful In The World, Only Our Reaction To Things

This morning I was struck again by an idea I’d picked up in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s wonderfully named book, Full Catastrophe Living. That there is nothing stressful in the world, only our reaction to things.

I’d understood this idea intellectually, but as usual there was a big gap until I actually really felt it (while walking up the street to our house this morning!)

Whatever happens, happens. Events in themselves, at least in terms of the day to day stresses that we all suffer, aren’t stressful, the stress is something that exists only within us. It seems to me that once this is clear, then there is a lot we can do about it. There are quite a few ways of taking responsibility for our own stress reactions, and changing them. Ending them even.

My stresses are usually caused by unmet expectations (things not happening the way I expect them to or want them to), by running around too much, by the moods of others, by my own fears. And by my reaction to these things. And there are a million ways to become aware of and then change our reactions to things.

I can learn to slow down. To lower my expectations. To surrender to things. To be more present instead of worrying about the future. To manage my fears by understanding them. To practice mindfulness so that I catch stress when I see it coming. To make space in my life and relationships when I need it.

For example:

If the car breaks down the week before I need to take it on holiday and have a million other things to do, I can just accept it and get it fixed (instead of going to war with the whole situation!)

If I’m arguing with my wife, I can just get out of her way, give us both some space, and come back to the discussion later.

When the deadline for getting out of the door in the morning is looming, I can just surrender to time, we’ll get there anyway!

When I’m scared of going to the dentist, I can just come back to the present moment and deal with the dentist when I get there.

When my blood pressure starts to rise because I’ve been on the computer too long, I can take stock of the fact and get away from the screen for a sufficient break (or better still, be mindful enough to take the break before my blood pressure starts to rise!)

And so on and so on… There is nothing stressful in the world, only our reaction to things. And there are plenty of resources to help with that.


10 thoughts on “There is Nothing Stressful In The World, Only Our Reaction To Things

  1. Thanks Ben for your very true words of wisdom. I am leading a stressful life at the moment, caring for my elderly sick mother and your blog entry today has helped me de-stress and put things in to a better perspective!


    1. That’s made me very happy to hear Vikki, thanks very much for letting me know it helped, and good luck and lots of good wishes from Madrid.


  2. Only yesterday, I saw this quote from the Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron’s new book. Its a beautiful way of looking at what is not always beautiful to the eye or the psyche.

    Each person’s life is like a mandala—a vast, limitless circle. We stand in the center of our own circle, and everything we see, hear and think forms the mandala of our life. We enter a room, and the room is our mandala. We get on the subway, and the subway car is our mandala, down to the teenager checking messages on her iPhone and the homeless man slumped in the corner. We go for a hike in the mountains, and everything as far as we can see is our mandala: the clouds, the trees, the snow on the peeks, even the rattlesnake coiled in the corner. We’re lying in a hospital bed, and the hospital is our mandala. We don’t set it up, we don’t get to choose what or who shows up in it. It is, As Chogyam Trungpa said, “the mandala that is never arranged but is always complete.” And we embrace it just as it is.

    Everything that shows up in your mandala is a vehicle for your awakening. From this point of view, awakening is right at your fingertips continually. There’s not a drop of rain or a pile of dog poop that appears in your life that isn’t the manifestation of enlightened energy, that isn’t a doorway to sacred world. But it’s up to you whether your life is a mandala of neurosis or a mandala of sanity.

    ~Pema Chodron, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change

    I started off my day discovering that my gym has been sold and is moving to a much less convenient (for me) location. I was mad at first and then I started thinking of creative ways to find a new place to exercise. Maybe I can join the YMCA , where my sister has a membership? My mother mentioned that maybe she would like to join too. This could make working out into a more meaningful experience.


    1. That is a really beautiful quote Christine, thanks for sharing that. I have read one of Pema Chodron’s books, ‘When things fall apart’, and loved it. I think I have to read this too now! Good luck with the solution to the gym, though it looks like you’ve found it, and it’s going to be great.


  3. Knowing last time I went to a dentist’s appointment that I would be stressed five minutes before walking into the surgery I decided to wait until then to worry. It worked. With practice I have honed in on the technique. Now I give myself a window of when I allow myself to worry and I TRY not to do so out of that window. Every night I know these worries will be attended to. The best nights are when I forget to attend to them!
    I worried about something yesterday and thought “what if I am run over today? I will have been worrying all day about something that will not only NOT happen but which is wasting all my precious moments of life”. That helped.
    A saying I love is: “The trick is not in doing what one likes but in liking what one has to do” or similar. It makes you worry far less. Nothing lasts. The experience you fear will soon be over but you need to live it through to the end and to the full.
    Another saying I live by is: “That the birds of worry fly about your head this you can not prevent. That they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent”. (Chinese proverb).


  4. Today’s post reminded me of an anecdote from one my meditation classes.

    A Zen master was once asked: “What is the teaching of the Buddha’s entire lifetime?”
    He answered “An appropriate response.”

    And as Ben said, easily understood, harder to apply. But we can continue to practice our own appropriate response and manage stressful situations.


    1. I love that quote, thanks Stephanie. Yes, it’s practice, practice, practice! I don’t expect for a minute never to be stressed again – just lots of good opportunities to put better and better responses into practice!


  5. Hi Ben,
    I am going to take a completely different stance, perhaps because I have experienced it. Could ‘the elephant in the room’ be that you are totally bored?
    You said how you have achieved your ambitions and are financially secure. Now what you need is a challenge again, something to get your adrenaline running and you won’t have time for niggling worries.
    There still must be a lingering ambition tucked away somewhere, explore the idea in your Morning Pages and see what comes up!
    Life is for living.


    1. Hi Jenny – Thanks for the other side of the coin! I have indeed been occasionally bored in recent times, mostly exactly because I’d achieved various ‘goals’ and then you say, ‘what next?’ But doesn’t that lead to a cycle of goal – boredom – goal… I think there must be a third way! I’ll think about that. As for lingering ambitions… lots!


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