#3: You Can’t THINK Your Way Out of Stress

Stress is an integral part of our existence. The Body’s Stress Response is something we all need for our very survival and protection. Often that system gets hijacked by our intellect, our practices and beliefs.

You can’t THINK your way out of stress. Trying to do that keeps many of us stuck in needless suffering. 

Rani and Suraj explore this key topic of Stress briefly in this podcast episode. Continuing on the theme from episode #2, they discuss why stress is another transient phenomenon, that can’t influence what is always constant – our Innate Well-being!

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Rani’s book on Amazon UK (also available worldwide): https://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Turn-Stress-Its-Head/dp/1549816764/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=rani+bora&qid=1582814743&sr=8-1

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Email: mail@drsranisuraj.com

Transcript of episode #3

Rani
I’d like to ask you a very intimate question today. Can I?

Suraj
Yes, sure.

Okay, so do you feel stressed?

Oh gosh, I do yeah.

Rani
Do you? Because I’ll tell you why I’m asking this. Your friends and my friends think that you are someone who never feel stress, feel peace all the time and I just wanted to expose you today, sorry! Do you feel stressed and you said you do.

Suraj
Yes I do. I am admitting that on a public platform now.

Rani
Okay excellent

Suraj
Of course, I get stressed. I’m human being so…

Rani
Welcome to this episode. Today we are going to talk about stress, but in a very different way. And when I say a very different way, I still want to check with Suraj and want to explain that there is a need for stress or is there, Suraj?

Suraj
Yes, if you mean the innate inbuilt stress response that our body has. Yes, yeah. As you and I know from our medical background, of course, the body’s got this system which we call the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal, the HPA axis in short. Let me try that again. It’s called the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, phew. It’s what gets turned on. When the body has to create this stress response. The HPA axis is meant to supply us with cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline, even glucose in our blood. (So that’s very technical. You’re going very technical today) Sorry. So it’s what happens chemically in our bloodstream, which helps us get ready to fight off whatever our body and mind perceives as the sort of immediate danger to tackle or escape from.

Rani
It is important, right? Yes, important we have this as otherwise we could be, say putting our hand on fire. And if the system were not to kick in, we would just sort of burn right?

Suraj
Yeah absolutely. It’s the body’s own risk contingency plan really, if you like. If we didn’t have that, the body wouldn’t be able to signal us that there is some something that can be dangerous to us or can be threatening.

Rani
It is very useful for us as human beings to have this system and in a way, it’s a gift.

Suraj
Yep, so it has a purpose and utility.

Rani
And what has happened is that over time with the conditioning and our habitual worries, we have started misusing the gift. I don’t know whether you’ve read this book Suraj, there’s a book called “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers”.

Suraj
Do you want to tell us more?

Rani
Yes, basically, in a nutshell what it means is…The animals also have this…

Suraj
Sorry how did they know zebras don’t get ulcers?

Rani
All I can say is that they seem to be healthy and they just get on with life and I’ll tell you what I mean by that. So, the analogy that the author use in this book is that animals, wild animals are always facing danger. When I say always I mean that you never know when they have danger lurking around. So when they are say, chased by a tiger, or a lion, they will be running for their life. They will be running because what happens is – this system kicks in and fight, flight or freeze system kicks in, and they will run for their life until they are safe or maybe, they will pretend to drop dead. And that’s what the whole freeze mechanism is, you know, they pretend that they have already died, hoping that the predator will leave them alone. But the thing is that, if they’re lucky to escape, what do you think they do? do you think they worry about “Oh my goodness! The lion was after me.” “And why did he do that?” “If only my friends had warned me before?”… Do you think this is what goes through the zebra’s mind? What does a zebra do?

Suraj
They go back to what they were doing, isn’t it? Like eating grass…

Rani
Exactly, exactly. And now replace the zebra with a human being. So we human beings, we also face danger. We also have unfortunate events happening around us and to us. And our fight and flight system kicks in. And then once it’s done, what do you think we do?

Suraj
So, we keep thinking about it, is it?

Rani
Exactly. We keep worrying, we blame ourselves, we feel guilty, or we blame someone else. And that’s what we are up against as human beings. And that is the psychological stress we are talking about today.

Suraj
So let me get this straight, why do we do something that the zebras don’t? Is it because of our ability to think?

Rani
Exactly, we use our intellects.

Exactly, we have a very advanced system. And this is why. And the intellect is a great friend. And it is great to help us through day to day tasks and planning our lives, setting goals, earning a living and so on. But when it comes to psychological well-being or calming down, it gets in the way, really gets in the way. And it’s really important and I think most people will admit to this, most people when I use this when I use this as a metaphor in my teachings, most people agree to that. And they laugh at it and they admit this is what they’re up against. But when it comes to then doing something about it, they struggle. So all I’m saying is – on the surface level, that’s what we are up against. Do you see what I mean?

Suraj
Yeah. And I think you’re right. In my experience, what happens is when I get really stressed, I feel like my mind certainly isn’t in a still state. And so it gets very cloudy thinking all sorts of thoughts and thoughts come and can get quite difficult to see the wood from the trees.

Rani
Me too. And you’ve seen me right? Up close and personal, you’ve seen how I react when I’m stressed.

Suraj
Yes, I have

Rani
Okay, let’s not go there. Now. You don’t have to tell the details to everyone. But the bottom line is we all feel stressed. Yeah? And actually, it’s interesting. I’ve written a book. I wrote a book two years ago. “How to Turn stress on its head” and it’s available on Amazon for people who want to check it out. But I say this openly to everyone, I might have written this book, I’m the author of this book and this book is doing great with great reviews, but the one thing I say to people is – I felt stressed then and I feel stressed even now. And this is something we are up against as human beings. And just me being able to acknowledge that is really freeing because there is no pretense that hey, just because I wrote this book that means I have found the solution to stress. This is what we will see happening to us time and again. Sometimes we are able to just get on with life and sometimes we might just get into this victim mindset, once in a while, really feeling sorry for ourselves because there’re so many things out there. We have so many things on our to-do list and the to-do list just keeps creeping up and up, right?

Suraj
Yeah, absolutely. So what can people do?

Rani
And that’s a great question. I get that question again and again. “Okay, Rani, so you said, so you explained what stress is, what the actual stress response is and you talk about how we misuse this power of our intelligence, our intellectual thinking, What do I have to do?” And all I can say is I want to share two metaphors, actually. The first one is something about how we – it’s like we have a stick with us, there’s muddy water in the pond and someone asked us to clear the water. What we tend to do is, without even thinking, we just start stirring the water with a stick. And then at some point, we say, “Hey, hang on a minute, the more I’m stirring, the water is getting worse, it’s getting muddier. So maybe I’ll just put the stick down for a little while”. And lo and behold, after some time, the water gets clear. And this is an analogy I use to explain how our mind works. The more we stir it (the mind) with our intellectual thinking and the stick is like our intellectual thinking, we are steering the mind again and again and again expecting to problem solve or feel less stressful. But actually, we do more harm. It grows and grows. And we might get distracted. Because we know where stress comes from and that it’s a phenomenon. The stressful feeling, stressful thought, is a phenomenon – it comes and goes. And then we just get on with life, or we might just do anything that makes sense to us – in that moment. So it can be a strategy that I or Suraj can give anyone. It’s whatever makes sense to the person in that moment. And you know, that’s the best way I can explain it.

Suraj
It’s about knowing that stress is part and parcel of our human existence. The body’s stress response is something which we all need for our own protection. Yes, and when that gets kind of overridden by what goes on in our intellect, influence and colored by our thoughts and beliefs, I suppose, stress can become quite chronic and long standing. And that’s when it gets quite difficult for people as from a health point of view.

Rani
Can you also see that the threshold seem to be lower than how it should be? So for most people – even people making a comment can trigger someone’s stress. And that sort of thing is what we’re pointing to. And can I use another example Suraj about how I see that. And, this is really lovely. Okay, so bear with me. So imagine you are standing on a platform, and all you’re doing is you’re observing the trains that are coming and going. There will be lots of stressful trains coming. So what I’m trying to say is – train of thoughts, okay? So imagine there are lots of trains of thoughts coming on the platform and a lot of them are stressful. And you don’t have to get on the stressful train. You could be just observing, and there will be times when you have no choice but to be in the train itself. But the whole power to experience that, to notice that, to observe that, is very freeing. So, similarly, there will be other trains, you can call them, less stressful trains or happy trains. And all I’m saying is that this will come and go, all these experiences of stress or happy feelings will come and go, like you’re observing all these trains just standing on a platform. That is freeing and that gives you that extra space where you can pause, you can do whatever it takes, and just get on with your life and I have found it very freeing.

Suraj
I love trains. And I can relate to that. (And maybe you haven’t experienced just waiting on the platform.) I have. Yes, I used to do that as a kid and I used to love steam engines actually. Growing up in northeast India. My father was an employee in the railways. So I used to love trains. I had so many train journeys I remember

Rani
So something for you to consider and equating that experience with observing the stressful experiences…

Suraj
Knowing that they will come and go. You don’t have to get on board, all of them.

Rani
And even if you do get up on them, you know that there will be another another platform and you can get off. Well, I like this conversation.

Suraj
Yeah, on that note, I think we’ve come to the end of this podcast, and we’ll put a link to Rani’s book in the show notes and we look forward to hearing what you think of this episode.