Change, Stress and Socrates

I love an Australian TV show called ‘800 Words’. The main character sort of narrates his monthly column as he lives his new life. He writes at the end of one of the first shows: ”Experts say some of the most stressful things in life are: 1. death, 2. buying and/or selling real estate, 3. emigrating and 4. international travel.” I’d also like to add, 5. losing a job or starting a new one, 6. Kids–having a child and/or sending the last one off or just worrying about them. “Only an idiot would attempt all of them at the same time.” He said. He was referring to himself, of course. But as so often happens in life, when it rains it pours.

We seldom get to amortize stressful situations and spread them out evenly over the timeline of our lives. Sometimes stressful things converge on us at once and we have to figure out how to manage. without a break to relax and regroup. And sometimes those things change the course of our lives completely without our permission, making it hard to see the silver lining.

Change produces stress in everybody, even if you go into the change willingly. Stress (and a loudly opposing opinion) makes us doubt ourselves and our decisions. Sometimes we even beat ourselves up by looking back, thinking we’ve made a huge mistake by initiating change. In his book “A Long Way Down” Nick Hornby wrote, “..Hard is trying to rebuild yourself, piece by piece, with no instruction book, and no clue as to where all the important bits are suppose to go.”

But avoiding anything makes it harder to face when our avoidance techniques stop working for us. For emotional success during times of stress and change Socrates gave us this formula: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” Notice he didn’t say to use ‘some’ of your energy on your changes while you use the rest to talk about your stress and suffering. Socrates suggests we use all our energy to build, and building implies a step by step process of construction starting from the ground up. We need to work at creating our new reality, our new normal. Try it–before you know it, the change becomes the silver lining.

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