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Below is the transcript from this podcast.



The medical information on this podcast is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment.

Please consult with your health care provider, or contact Changing Elements Acupuncture and Herbs, before making any healthcare decisions or purchases.

Hello, and welcome to Changing Health Acupuncture Radio where we talk about living healthy in today’s world. I am honored that you are giving of your time today to learn more about your health, and I hope that I can provide some answers for you. My name is Erik Jackson, I am a licensed acupuncturist in Texas, and I look forward to presenting you with some information over the next twenty minutes or so.

By the time this podcast airs I will have been at the second Denton Community Market day and have done my first Qigong workshop so if you came to either of those, thank you. Thank you also to those who were at my talk at Natural Grocers and any who attended my fatigue presentation at the Cancer Support Community of North Texas at their Clubhouse in Dallas.

This is probably going to be a heavier talk because today I am focusing on managing mental stress.

Everything happens for a reason.

You are never given more than you can handle.

You are responsible for everything that happens in your life.

 

Many people feel that these phrases are empowering and perhaps encouraging to others who are facing significant difficulties. While these people mean well, they are wrong. In my time on this earth, five friends of mine have been taken by violence, disease, accidents, and suicide. Only one had made it to 30. Two of them were Eagle Scouts who had done incredible things in their community and could have brought that drive to the world if only they had the time. One was a pillar of his community and a true service backbone to those he cared for.

I know others who are incredible people and have done great work, only to be laid low by Parkinson’s, Chronic Fatigue, mental disorders, and other horrible conditions or situations. These conditions wreck their ability to work, ruin their finances, strain their relationships, sap their enjoyment of life, and destroy their bodies.

And for what reason do they suffer? How is any of this their fault?

There is no reason. And they are not to blame.

I am certain that you, or someone you know, has dealt with or is dealing with a tremendous life struggle. Pain is universal, we have all had it or been affected by it at some point. Pain defines and shapes our actions and personalities. It allows us to be more empathetic, but also more jaded. Ultimately, pain has no reason, it just is, and we must manage it.

I have mentioned The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine before, and I will be speaking about it in more detail today. Stoicism is not a depressing outlook on life which sees only the negative, rather it is a realistic discipline for mental pain management. While mindfulness practices are very good at helping one to maintain a calm demeanor and relax, Stoicism presents a number of tools for stress management and mental preparation specifically for awful situations. Among these tools are five techniques which Irvine presents, which I will be going over today.

The first, and I believe most useful, of the five techniques in The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, is called “Negative Visualization.” This is where you take a bit of time each day to think of what are the worst possible outcomes to things in your life. This does not mean you dwell on these possibilities but do try to see and feel them, then let it go. Very often I have found that my reaction to a bad situation or terrible news is much harder if I haven’t really considered the possibility of something going wrong. While there is some bad news you can expect, like the IRS taking forever to process your refund or your boss calling you in for mandatory overtime, there are others which you cannot, such as being injured, wrecking your car, having a lawsuit filed against you, a friend or relative dying. Regardless of if this is something you expect or not, think of the worst situations and try to feel them, briefly, so that you have at least some emotional preparation when they do come. This exercise builds up your emotional resilience and allows you to address troubles more easily and not be blindsided or frustrated when troubles arise.

The second techniques is to learn what control you have. You are not always going to get what you want. That really nice person who you would like to date is not always going to notice, or even care about you. You will not win every contest you enter. Not every presentation you make is going to go well. While it would be nice to win at everything, that expectation is not going to be fulfilled, and you will cause yourself a lot of grief by having it. Instead, focus on what you can do. I may not be able to get that nice woman to like me, but I can put myself out there and show her who I am. I may not win this game, but I can play to the best of my ability. I may get stuck during this presentation but I can convey the information I have to the best of my ability. In all of these ways, you reframe the situation from being a contest to being a chance to demonstrate your abilities and grow. The object then becomes not to win, but to show who you are, what you are capable of, and develop a mastery of your life. You set internal goals which are not beholden to external results. Breaking this down further, there are three categories of situations in life which you will encounter. Those which you have complete control, those in which you have partial control, and those in which you have no control. If you have complete control, then work to achieve the desired results to the best of your ability. You have complete control over your reaction to a situation, you have complete control on meeting deadlines, you have complete control over whether or not you speak to the object of your affection.

If you have partial control, then focus on those aspects you can control, especially those which are internal. I can drive carefully and with awareness, but this does not guarantee I will not have a wreck. I can focus on my driving and mentally visualize and prepare for the possibility of an accident and my response to it. While I can get my taxes done early, at the end of the day I have no control over when exactly my refund is coming in, however I can plan my finances around not having that refund, even if I know I am owed it. While I cannot make that woman like me, I can make my presence known to her, and be as charming as possible. While my voice in the political arena is minuscule, I can make it heard and I can go and support organizations and individuals at various levels to try and accomplish the results I desire.

If you have no control then there is no reason to worry. It is going to be hot in the summer. Most politicians will do things I do not agree with. The IRS will move at its own pace. These are things which you plan a response for, but you cannot change them.

If you understand your level of control both on external results and internal responses, combined with the mental preparation of negative visualization, you gain, if not more control over your life, more emotional stability. You cannot tell life to run like a computer program and just make corrections along the way; instead, think of it like a master of martial arts. You won’t prevent all of the attacks, but you can redirect and respond to them so that their effect is minimal.

The third technique is to not dwell on the past. Just as you prepare for the worst in the future, you do not harbor ill feelings about what could have been. Holding on to anger and bitterness, regardless of how justified such feelings may be, does not help you. You do yourself a disservice by allowing the pain and unmet expectations of the past to control you. This does not mean, having learned from the past, that you allow such events to happen again. If you can control it, if someone lied to you, or treated you poorly, you are not obligated to allow them to do so again, but it is also unbecoming to hold on to your hurt or to take it out on others.

The fourth technique is something of an application and expansion on the first. In preparing for the worst, sometimes it may be good to experience adversity. Try going for a day without electricity, or heat, or money. Basically, set up times where you deliberately make things a bit more difficult for yourself. This again reinforces your ability to deal with adversity and also allows you a dry run of misfortunes you will likely experience. This sort of training has come in handy for me personally as I have been much more tolerant of taking cold showers when the heating was out, and they can even be enjoyable in the summer, and they are good at helping to wake me up with a little more energy. When the water filtration is on the fritz, I have a camp filter that will serve to get me clean water. I know my way around my home so that if the electricity is out I can still navigate in the dark and I have a flashlight on my keychain just in case. I have a single burner propane stove which I have used on cross country trips so that I don’t need to buy a lunch and I can make use of that if the power is out at the house. Because I have experienced these hardships I am resilient and prepared in the face of them and have some degree of preparation for more serious events. By willingly forgoing pleasure, you make yourself mentally tougher so that when things are less than ideal, you can still move forward. This can also be taken with regards to physical training such as running when it is colder or dark, as you are killing two birds with one stone by improving both your physical and mental hardiness.

The final technique is self-assessment. Whereas a number of meditative techniques are aimed at achieving an empty mind, the Stoic practice is one of reflection and self-improvement. The ultimate goal of a stoic is to lead a tranquil life. They pursue a lack of anger, sorrow, frustration, etc., instead of chasing happiness, renown, or praise. While this may lead to less excitement, it also leads to less pain as you are able to enjoy what pleasure comes along, but minimize what suffering presents itself. In this technique, you reflect on your day and how you reacted, and where you can improve. To those of use with a rather noisy inner critic, we can put this judgmental voice to work on suggestions for how we can improve instead of simply what we should or should not do. Furthermore, in combination with the setting of internal goals from the second technique, we can use this when conflict arises with others. While respect and praise are wonderful things, as is cowing another who is wrong in an argument, the question remains, what does it accomplish? Do I want to win the argument, or do I want the individual to change their behavior? While I probably can do the former, it will almost certainly sacrifice the latter. This self-reflection presents options as to what is the most effective way of pursuing my true goals.

Stoicism as a philosophy and mental practice is, in my opinion, the best out there. While I certainly appreciate the ideas of striving for a calm life, many of those practices seem to work best in a vacuum, where one avoids all of the messiness of life and can get down to mental emotional development without having to worry about the outside world. Unfortunately, we have bills to pay, annoying people to deal with, random accidents, and other unpleasantness. As such, while avoiding some suffering is possible, removing oneself from the world to practice inner peace really is not an option. And if your mental discipline cannot realistically help you deal with the daily traffic, then it is not an adequate practice. Beyond this, Stoic practices enable you to not only prepare and manage your stress but, eventually take on more stressful situations.

So once again, I highly recommend the book The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine. His book covers the five techniques I mentioned as well as a number of other topics. If you are interested in other resources I recommend the blog by Tim J. Lawrence called The Adversity Within, especially his post “Everything Doesn’t Happen for A Reason.” You might also want to check out the website Stoicism Today which offers some online courses on Stoic Practice.

So as we are at the end of our talk today, I’d like to cover a few important details. Firstly, this is a national broadcast but I do have a clinic in Denton Texas, which is located at 524 N. Locust St, right next to the post office and a restaurant called The Greenhouse. I am available for phone consultations, and patient visits, both which you can schedule through my website chelements.com, and “chelements” is all one word. If you go on there I have a few supplements for sale which treat for mental stress, though I do recommend that you call me for a consultation before you purchase. My number is 940-441-5404 [repeated]. My website has a number of previous articles which I have written as well as past podcasts, which you can peruse at your leisure. I would love to hear from you with suggestions or questions through my website or my Facebook page, Changing Elements Acupuncture and Herbs, or Twitter, @changingelement.

I am planning another broadcast around April 20th or so and I look forward to speaking with all of you then. For those of you in the Dallas area who would like to meet me in person, I will be at the Denton Community Market every Saturday through June, and I will be doing a one-hour qigong workshop at 2 PM the first Saturday of every month at Fred Moore Park in Denton. So that will be May 7th, at 2 PM, when that happens next. This will be after the Denton Community Market, which is from 9 AM ’til 1 PM every Saturday. Sometime in July, I will be doing a promotion with Legacy Fitness Gym in Denton, and I will keep you up to date on any other developments. I hope you have a great day and ’til next time I am Erik Jackson, this is Changing Health Acupuncture Radio from Changing Elements Acupuncture and Herbs in Denton, Texas.

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