Someone sent me an e-mail last week after I’d posted a blog on Patch about Hurricane Sandy.
“People are very, very stressed out!” she wrote. It reminded me how vulnerable we all are to stress, and got me thinking again how it is that some of us deal better with it than others.
The term “stress” was popularized in the 1950’s by Dr. Hans Seyle, who defined it as “the nonspecific response of the organism to any pressure or demand.” Jon Kabat-Zinn (“Full Catastrophe Living”) points out that “it is not the potential stressor itself but how you perceive it and then how you handle it that will determine whether or not it will lead to stress.”
We all know this from personal experience. Sometimes the slightest little thing can trigger an emotional overreaction in us, completely out of proportion to the offending event itself… At other times we might be able to handle not just little annoyances but major emergencies with almost no sense of effort…
“Control, a psychological factor," Kabat-Zinn goes on to say, “is a key factor in protecting an animal.” Those of us who felt we had prepared as best we could last week for the storm; had a backup plan in the event we lost power; even those of us who kept a list of things we could do better in the next weather emergency did better than those of us who gave in to what has been called the extreme toxicity of “learned helplessness, a term describing a condition in which we discover that nothing we do matters.”
But if helplessness can be learned, it can also be unlearned… Even if there is no actual course of external action we can take that will have a meaningful effect under certain extremely stressful circumstances, human beings still have profound internal psychological resources that can give us a sense of being engaged and in control to some degree and thereby protect us from helplessness and despair.
Some of us are more naturally “stress-hardy” than others, but all of us can increase our stress-hardiness. Identifying our inner and outer available resources; expanding our circle of friends/community; becoming more aware of how we view ourselves; examining our feelings about change; and our sense of coherence and affiliative trust - all of these can be strengthened through mindfulness practice, and each plays a role in increasing our level of stress-hardiness.
And then please join us for meditation this Saturday morning at 9 a.m.
Rabbi Mark Sameth is the spiritual leader of Joyful Judaism: Pleasantville Community Synagogue an inclusive, progressive synagogue—with members from 20 towns, villages and cities all across Westchester and “A Hebrew School Your Kids Can Love.” Read The New York Times article. Follow Rabbi Mark on Twitter . Weekly meditation at the synagogue every Saturday morning at 9 a.m. is open to the public; everyone—without exception—is welcome and warmly invited. OUR MEMBERSHIP DRIVE IS ON. See “Top Ten Reasons to Join PCS” at www.ShalomPCS.com.