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Coping with stress: pain as motivation.

Bijgewerkt op: 16 feb. 2021

When we're uncomfortable in the situation we're in, we do the strangest things to handle this stress (called coping). But coping is actually quite rational.

As an adolescent, I was very uncomfortable most of the time, especially in social situations. Allow me to entertain you with my awkward memories:

When I was 15 years old, I wore shoes that were two sizes too big. I did this because there was a rumour about shoe size being correlated to the size of another part of the body... And this worked perfectly: I never got a comment on having small feet.

I was socially awkward and had no self-confidence, so I needed to find a way to be able to speak in front of a group. And a great solution arose: I drank a lot whenever I had the chance and I was able to speak.

To avoid being social and to be distracted from the headaches I got into RPG's (role-playing computer games). And this worked wondrously well: I didn't need to be worried about interacting with anyone when I'm in the game, I wasn't even me in these games.

I felt weak and unworthy, so a fantastic way to cope arose: I became overly focused on fighting sports and this granted me some sort of social status and appreciation.

The long term effects of this lifestyle were not great as these solutions were: I had painful feet, a bad drinking habit, I got into plenty of situations that I'm not proud of, I damaged my body and I had a limited social circle.

These were all mind-based solutions to deal with uncomfortable situations. They work wondrously in the short term but have big adverse effects in the long term.

And I've seen many ways of coping throughout the years: gossiping to feel interesting and not be bothered with your own troubles, drugs to find a better reality, stress-eating to be distracted, binge-watching Netflix, venting with friends, antidepressants, ...

And we should be grateful that we have some coping or distracting behaviours, otherwise we are always in the unpleasant emotion. And it really can get you through some uncomfortable times, as long as it doesn't last too long, you can keep on going somehow.

This time of Corona often doesn't let us do our coping behaviours. It gets tougher to deal with reality, and reality is now often grimmer than usual, which translates to an increase of coping and the use of antidepressants. Though a period of more concentrated suffering is also the greatest period for change and personal growth.

My misery as an adolescent did bring me to study psychology. Yes, the cliché is true, often troubled people end up studying this. But this was not my liberation from my destructive ways to deal with life.

After my bachelor, my self-worth was still mostly dependent on my fighting ability. This led me to a gap year to go to China to train with Shaolin monks as this was the root of all fighting sports. The months I spent there were mostly as expected: a lot of me being kicked and beaten by monks along with learning a lot. But one thing came as a surprise:

They forced me to sit for extended periods of time without doing anything.

The latter part was a disaster for me, this was tougher than the physical training. Though I felt an inner change due to the meditation after coming back home.

But don't worry, my drinking days were not over yet. Me physically pushing myself constantly led to injuries that would never heal (according to the doctor) and the advice to stop doing fighting sports.

The only thing that gave me a feeling of self-worth I could no longer do, so: bye bye self-confidence.

Somehow, through this mostly miserable time, I finished two psychology master degrees. And after this, I was working towards starting a PhD, which I was mostly doing to regain some ego.

In this period I stumbled into a yoga class and my life started to turn around. I felt my mind getting lighter (just like what happened in China) and my injuries disappear. This was exhilarating and intriguing to me. I cancelled the PhD and instead, I moved to India. To learn, meditate, and practice with a (then) 93-year-old yogi and a mindfulness-based therapist.

Here I learned and experienced that mental health cannot be disconnected from physical health. There is an intricate immediate connection that should be respected to obtain and maintain balance.

Brain health is like brushing your teeth, it requires frequent maintenance.

And along with the power of these healthy habits, I learned that deriving self-confidence from ego is a poisonous path. That there is a better way to be comfortable at all times.

After nearly a year I came back and studied ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) and started teaching yoga, meditation, breathing, the effect of food on mental health and I started guiding people towards living their best lives.

When you analyse the life of people, everyone is dividable into three categories.

A big group that is comfortable: they have a feeling of safety in their job, with their family and friends. They have functional ways of coping with stress as long as not too much bad stuff happens at once. From comfort, personal growth is the least likely. This is because most people won't see the reason why they should try to make life better. This is also a reason why personalities are so stable on average.

Another big group of people is in terminal comfort: they feel safe in the uncomfortable situation they are in. They don't really like their job, or don't have a job, are not happy in their relationship, but have a way to keep on going somehow. There is a lot of stress, and their (often unhealthy) coping behaviours are actively shortening their lives. Being long enough in terminal comfort is the greatest motivator of change and personal growth, though it is remarkable how long people can be in this uncomfortable state without changing.

There is a very tiny third group of people who are 'driven'. They love what they do, have heaps of energy to do what they want to do, deal with their problems effectively and live unbound by fear.

I want to bring as many people as possible to this gategory of 'driven people'.

I don't believe we should dig into the past to make life bearable; I believe we should learn skills to better deal with the present moment (which can be unpleasant) in order to make life as great as it can be. Simple daily habits and a new life philosophy can make a fantastic difference.

I am not a clinical psychologist, I'm not here to get rid of your anxiety and depression. There often is a rough reason for sadness and fear, the situation we're in can be tough.

I am here to provide the tools to make your life very enjoyable, and by doing this, fear and sadness tend to go away by themselves. ,

If you want to develop a 'growth mindset' and develop 'drive', reach out!

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