In a previous post, I described the experience of a person walking through a dark parking lot followed by a man. The body’s natural stress response was initiated as she perceived she was in danger. She raced to her car only to realize that she wasn’t in danger at all; she had simply been followed by someone who had parked near her. In reality, she wasn’t in danger at all.
What then, is reality? Reality is our perception of our surroundings. In a manner of speaking, reality for me will be different than reality for you. Could it be then, that our perception of what our surroundings are determines what evokes the stress response or relaxation? This doesn’t mean that if I feel stressed, I am not in a difficult situation. No doubt some circumstance has made you feel threatened, worried, or anxious in some way or another. However, it seems to me that if we can change the way we perceive our surroundings, then we can change how much stress we feel.
For example, I worked for a few years as an aide in a local hospital physical therapy clinic. As I worked with different patients, I began to notice a trend. Some patients came into our clinic excited to be there, anxious to learn what they could do to get better, and knowing that they were going to get better. Other patients came in frustrated that their doctor was making them waste their time with physical therapy. They were convinced that no matter what we did, they just were not going to get better. I was impressed to see that the latter group really did struggle getting better. They may improve for a time, but their progress would plateau before they were completely healed and back to normal life. On the other hand, those with a positive attitude and a perception of progress and improvement really would get better; furthermore, the healing generally seemed to happen in a shorter amount of time and more completely than their grumpy counterparts.
How do you see your surroundings? Do you see the future as glum and hopeless or bright and hopeful? Do you plan for success or do you consign yourself to failure from the beginning? Simply changing the way that we look at the world around us can greatly decrease our perceived stress and improve our mental and physical health.