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When we are aware of disturbing issues which we are concerned will disrupt our daily lives, whether it be money related, health-related, image related, career-related, ego related or whatever else that disturbs our peace of mind, we go through an experience referred to as ‘stress’.

The common meaning of stress that I have always accepted is putting extraneous factors (our problems) and pressuring the brain (to ironically provide relief) at the cost of everything else. At that time nothing matters but the sole source of that concern, irritation or problem. Given that the brain has only so much capacity, this, loading or surge of extraneous pressure may have serious health concerns for its preventing the brain from carrying on its normal management of our body, including our responses to situations. It’s putting the brain into an ‘un-natural’ environment and consequently the natural functions of eating, sleeping, resting, work production, toilet habits, responses cannot be regulated by the brain on account of this attention the brain is forced to give to this isolated problem. The brain is therefore said to be “stressed”.

It’s so easy to advise someone, don’t be stressed. Relax and the problem will go away. The truth is that this would be the king of idiotic and nonconstructive advice as it does not cover how not to get “stressed”. Very often the problem will not go away just like that.

To compound the matter, our response to such ‘stressful’ situations is often made worse by the messages sent by our Hippocampus to our Amygdala (simply put, the Hippocampal function is still an often debated topic). Buttons in the Amygdala will be pressed (whether appropriate or not) and we are thrown into our past ugly episodes of panic and terror, stored in our subconscious, and the Amygdala starts being the producer of one of the worst horror films one has ever seen. The imposition of that horror on one’s present life (more often than not, totally inapplicable) generates a new expectation of horror intensified by the forebrain to the extent that one can’t imagine living with the consequence of the intensified scenario and is left completely without hope.

It’s normally at this point, which I find people who want to reach out for help in the better management of life, seek the counsel of Counsellors, as most of the time, the details of the problem are very personal and confidential. This is the first step towards stress management.

Just like a pot of boiling water, the steam must be let out if an explosion is to be avoided. Talking to a mental health therapist helps in letting out the steam to ‘normalize’ the pressure, as a first step. Such talks are held at a place where the Counselee is most comfortable, in a safe place, and not being judged but listened to with cognitive and emotional empathy,… a friend who together with the Counselee will walk the Counselee through towards the light.

The second step is to be shown the ways of mental management of such predicament. The known way of keeping it within ourselves and letting, producer Amygdala toy around with the brain on a free run is not the right way. This way therefore will not be a successful way of managing our mental health.

One good way is to truly understand what is in that Amygdala. How much of ID has been removed and replaced by sensible values? ID is what we are all born with, which really is-“I don’t care about anything, if I’m hungry I cry for food, it I’m in pain I cry for attention, I would release body waste anywhere, anytime. I have no regard for anything except my personal comfort”. This is the stage of babyhood. As we go through life much of our ID is replaced by cultural, religious and environmental values. We mold our ID to be courteous, sensible, caring, respectable and loving human beings. Once we have understood how much our ID has been molded, we will be able to better understand ourselves.

The third step is to consolidate this awareness with the present. I always think of the conversion from the unconscious to the conscious, so that we consciously understand ourselves. We need to go searching for our unknown self. Naturally, this would be a difficult experience and we may discover a great deal of weakness that we have and never wanted to address, preferring to bury it deep in our subconscious. This is where the consolidation process becomes vital – it’s a reconciliation exercise, the objective being to accept our weaknesses and develop a strategy to either overcome or mitigate these weaknesses. If these weaknesses can be seen as an opportunity for improvement, that will be great. In my experience, this is nearing the end of the denial response and the sunrise of acceptance.

The fourth step will be to find the answers. Can this ever be done? Not in my experience. We cannot change situations. We can’t immediately pretend that Super Storm Sandy never paid the globe a visit. We have to accept that it did visit, and it did leave behind considerable pain and suffering, as a reminder of its visit. Can there ever be an answer? If I wish someone could tell me. All we can do is to accept and immediately attend to ‘fixing’ it, no matter what the consequence. If one has been diagnosed with a confirmed fatal illness, then in this context, it means not ever worrying about the sickness but doing our utmost best to be as comfortable as the circumstance will allow us to and living our lives with all the consequences (discomfort) WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO? This position may have a chance to turning around the situation compared to pessimism and negativism which stresses the brain with consequential mental and physical negative effects.

After the fourth step of, living with the problem, with an acceptance of the consequences, not ever being in denial, no matter how painful it may be, one can expect a minimization of pain and suffering. This is because the positive management of mental health together with all the adverse consequences of a situation, would have removed the stress on the brain, allowing the brain to manage the health of the body and immunity system – and behold – it’s this constructive position that allows for mental and physical comfort that one needs so badly. Isn’t this an added bonus when life once appeared so hopeless? At least you have your sanity and the possibility that somewhere and somehow you will reap the rewards.

I guess what I am trying to convey with great difficulty, as it is always easier said than done, is no matter how bad the situation is, as long as there is life, there is hope. The hope may not exactly be what we would imagine or desire, but it will be something that could allow us tranquillity of mind in the midst of turmoil. The beautiful sensation of silence in a mad and noisy world. The strong, charging high waves of a storm will have to come down, there will be a calm after the storm. All we can do is to maintain our sanity, ride the storm, wait for the calm and face the ill-effects bravely and with HOPE.

The eventual result is never the challenge. The management of ourselves towards a desired and positive outcome is, independent of whatever the end maybe! This management is what I recognize as HOPE!

Program Administrator at Kassim-Aydin McPherson Consults Sdn Bhd.