Are you allergic to emotions? Video

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Stress Management: The One Life Only Approach

by Nathan Chua

If my guess is right, I think one of the most common topics that people may have looked up online is self-help articles about stress management.  It’s rather amazing that even as we come up with so many new technologies today to make life easier, stress seems to be here to stay.  In fact, some may argue that it has become worse, because we can’t seem to stay away from stress.

In the Philippines, we are no exception.  We have stress both at home and at work.  Now, being one of the countries that is hooked on social media, we even experience stress online!  And of course, we here in Manila have the added burden of the all-too-familiar traffic situation.

As I started this blog post stating how plentiful stress management articles are, I must admit this one will be part of the statistics.  It is I am afraid, another one among a million other stress management articles that are out there.  I hope I can justify it by saying that this is the one and only, One Life Only approach to stress management.  I have added a mnemonic, “S.T.O.P.P.” to make it easier for you.

Here are my tips:

Self-talk

This is something most of us take for granted.  Before something stresses us out, we need to be critical of the language that lingers in our minds.  I often use the example of road rage.  We can’t remove the possibility of someone being an undisciplined driver, but we also may consider that the driver who cut us off on the road, was just making a human mistake.  So before we blow our top, try to think that the sudden swerve was merely a mental lapse.  That person behind the wheel might really be a nice person who just got distracted, and not the monster we imagine him or her to be.

Turn down (Say No)

Be willing to be the bad guy or gal occasionally.  Learn to accept that we cannot please everyone every time.  I remember something I read, if we can’t say no, then our yes means nothing.  We can’t possibly be at every party, and we can’t be at everyone’s side when there is trouble.  Be human, not superhuman.

Openness (Acceptance)

We all need to accept the fact that life can be stressful at times.  The more we deny this fact, the more unbearable life can be.  Here’s one of my life quotes from Edith Weisskopf-Joelson,

“Our current mental-hygiene philosophy stresses the idea that people ought to be happy, that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment.  Such a value system might be responsible for the fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by the unhappiness about being unhappy.”

Paint (Your Story)

This is probably the most One Life Only type of advice here.  If we look back on our past, notice the stories we tell people.  The stories that we are most proud to tell, are those of suffering and pain; moments of stressful coping with life’s unexpected turns.  In the end, these are the anecdotes that great books are made of, and we can be their proud authors.

Pair

Find a friend.  I will borrow a memorable analogy from an author I admire.  Life can at times be like us in a small boat, with our light bobbing alone in the pitch darkness of a vast ocean at night.  It helps to know, and see that there is that other small boat, with its light bobbing at a distance.

Hope this helps.

 

The Choices We Lose

by Nathan Chua

It is sometimes easy for us  to dismiss such a tired old phrase, “We all have a choice about what we want to do with our lives.” What we don’t easily realize is that much of the decisions we make in life can at times be dictated by expectations from the outside. These expectations are not as evident as one would think they are. They can be subtle. However, being subtle does not make them unimportant. Sometimes our life’s decisions turn out to be life-changing. Who do you marry? Or, do you get married at all? What job or college course do you take? Should you leave an unhappy marriage? Should you let everyone know what your true gender preference is?

As a Chinese Filipino, I know the expectations that come with my ethnicity. One is supposed to be married, settled down and seeing kids start their own careers at the age I am in. I am reminded of a man in history, a philosopher named Jean-Paul Sartre, who lived a lifestyle that many would, in his time, find to be a sad and futile one at best, and a crazy one at worst. He lived purposefully different from how others in his time did, and showed that meaningfulness can be found in his choices too.

Although there is no crime for people to be different, there are pressures that come from the voices that stay with us, even when those whose voices we still hear are no longer around. Many of us choose to live lives that have been chosen for us by others, whether they be around or not. Don’t get me wrong though. I am not saying that those that do follow expectations are always or often unhappy. I can certainly find a lot of reasons to be content with following the norms of society.

Even as this is a given, I would hasten to add that much of the problems that relate to depression and anxiety, are rooted in living lives that have lost the capacity to choose. “What choice do I have?” is often the refrain. Much of this is caused by shame and guilt. Not living the life that is expected of one,  is associated with abnormality, or being a misfit.

Mr. Sartre lived a life that many of his time would consider immoral and abnormal. That label though did not stop him from becoming one of the greatest thinkers of his time, and even to this day. His books and words still ring true to our lives in the 21st century. And all these ideas have come from someone who was born more than a hundred years ago.

Don’t get me wrong though, I am not advocating here for you to live an immoral lifestyle. However, I am encouraging you that even though Your life doesn’t match what most people expect, You should not see yourself as any less than others. Take heart! You can still choose not to lose who you are and find meaning and substance to your existence. You can still opt to live your choices, and live them courageously as some of those who have done so in the past. You are not alone.

The Tireless Pursuit of Happiness

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by Nathan Chua

If you can sense some irony in the title of this piece, that’s because there is.  With all the billboards, print or online ads, self-help books and motivational speakers constantly claiming to know the secret to a “happy” life, it is not surprising to see so many who tirelessly pursue, what they know they should not be tirelessly pursuing.  It should happen effortlessly and instantaneously!  That’s the message we see all over.  Want to lose fat?  No problem, we can hand it to you just for showing up and getting an hour’s treatment.  Alas, we are all subject to the same subliminal messages and are all somehow victims of such a sincere but insidious message.  Knock yourself out and be happy, and woe to those who don’t quite cut it.

I saw this unfold in real life when I listened to the story of someone who got a job that anyone would kill for.  This client had a job that offered great pay, low stress and lots of free time to spend with his family.  The only problem was there was still something missing.  He felt depressed and couldn’t figure out why.

As we teased out the problem, we realized there was one element that was missing in his current job.  He didn’t do the single thing that made him feel like he was worth something.  All the elements of a good job were there for the taking, but the one thing that he felt was the essence of what he loved about the job wasn’t there.  The part that he enjoyed doing the most was no longer part of his job description.

This reminds me of a metaphor that I love to use when talking with people who suffer issues of seemingly non-purposeful lives.  It’s like a wild animal locked up in a beautiful, shiny golden cage.  Yes it might be nice and comfortable in there.  Food and water are in abundant supply, and no predators around to hurt you.  But somehow, like a wild bird, the bird will escape the cage at the earliest opportunity.  Why?  It’s because that’s the life that a wild bird wants to live.  A life full of peril, but also a life that produces opportunities for it to hunt and fly to survive.  It’s what its instincts tell it to do.

A lot of the confusion about happiness stems really from having a correct definition of terms.  When we look for happiness, it is usually in the form of an expensive car or a long holiday.  Happiness is often confused with meaning.  Another excellent example is when we have kids.  Kids are great for sure, but what most of us don’t realize, is that raising one is a chore.  We don’t recognize them as such, because somehow time stops when we are raising them.  Much like when we are doing our favorite hobby, we don’t see time pass us by.  We get less conscious of our finite time on earth.  It is also similar to having sex.  At some point we feel ageless and suspended in time.  That momentary feeling of immortality that comes with having no concept of time, and how quickly it can pass, somehow gives us a taste of what it feels like to be immortal.  Just think of the last time you were doing a task or in a job that you absolutely abhorred.  You felt dead and all you could do was look up the clock.

True living is not just about pursuing happiness, but also about pursuing meaning.  It’s really not our search for happiness that makes us tick, but our search for meaning.  Woe to those who pursue happiness the way popular culture describes it, and glad is the one who pursues meaning in every step.