Written by Doctor G

 The space between the stressor and your response

Hi! stressor

Last week we talked about the stresses in our life that don’t change.

I asked what you face that is reliably stressful and you wrote to me about all kinds of things. Someone is the caretaker for an older, ill-tempered family member who’s sick and hasn’t gotten any nicer. Someone gets debilitating migraine headaches, a number of people work for family-owned businesses with a boss who hasn’t ever learned to care about the people who work for them. A lot of people live with someone with poor behavior. Many of you are reliably stressed by the attitude or behavior of a teenager, a parent, a sibling. And yes, mothers-in-law got more than a few mentions. Really, just about all of us have something in our lives that is stressful and not going away any time soon.

As I mentioned, my Mom always told me “If you can’t change the stressor, you have to change your reaction to it.”

I quoted Victor Frankl, who said:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

And I said this week we’d talk about how we can use that space between to strengthen ourselves and actually change our response to the stressor.

There are a lot of stressors outside our control. And we can’t always “just” quit the job, end the relationship, kick the person out of our lives. Sometimes we need to find a way to live with whatever the stressor is without letting it mess up our lives, our day, even our mood. And the power to do that is in the “space between.” So that’s why we should do this work.

How do we do it? There are three steps and we’re up to number two.

  1. Name the stressor. You did that!
  2. Catch ourselves in before the response.

This is the hardest step. Stopping ourselves after the stressor and before we respond to it. You’ve named the beginning of this space (the stressor) so now I want you to name clearly the end of the space – the response you are currently having that you don’t like.

What is your current reaction to the demand, the pain, the annoyance, the person that you would like to change? This is the end of the space between. If you can name the response you want to change, then next week we’ll be much more easily able to change it.

So go ahead, search your experience and tell me (if you’re willing) what is your current response to your stressor that you don’t like? What is it you’re thinking or doing that you would like to change?

All my best,

Dr. G

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