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The goal of this 30-day course has been to help you transform your experience of stress. As we near the end, I want to ask you to help other people with their experience of stress. It's simple, really: Just don't pass yours on.
It's so easy to get stressed. There are so many opportunities these days. You are driving, and another driver cuts you off. Your boss barks at you. You have to deal with a grumpy salesperson at the store. Your children are sick. You can't reach a helpful human on the phone. You get a bad night's sleep. Your computer crashes.
As soon as you get stressed, however, there is a good chance you will make the next moment more stressful. You see the world through stressful eyes. You become jumpy, reactive and sensitive. Then you become the careless driver. You become the grump. You push past someone in the store. You snap at your children. You drop the pot. You speak to people in an abrupt, dismissive way. You cut corners—making mistakes that cause problems down the line. And this, unfortunately, is how stress gets passed on. Your stress makes someone else stressed. In other words, stress has a domino effect.
It's time to put a stop to that. It doesn't matter whose fault the stress was originally, because once you are stressed, it's your responsibility, and what you do with it is up to you. This means you can make a choice right now. You can choose not to pass it on.
Once you notice you're stressed, take action immediately. Do a moment of meditation, and use that moment of meditation to put a clear divide between your past and your future, to make sure you stop stress in its tracks. This may not always be easy. At times, it might feel like a superhuman task, as if you were Superman, trying to stop an out-of-control subway train with your bare hands. But give it a try.
At the very least, if you can't stop your stress completely, then inform the next person you meet that you are stressed. Let her know that you know it. Tell her you're having a hard day. Apologize for yourself in advance (you can even say you need a minute). This small acknowledgement will help others protect themselves from your stress—ensuring that they don't take it on unconsciously. They might even be able to give you some space. They might even be able to help.
It certainly seems that our collective stress levels are escalating these days. Life seems to be getting faster and more crowded—there's more anxiety, and no one has time to spare. I believe this "stresscalation" is affecting everything—our relationships, our health, our work, our politics and our ability to care for the planet. This is why your decision not to pass on your stress is so important.
Although stress certainly makes you less able to care for yourself—leading to illness as well as overeating, drinking and smoking—it also makes you less able to care for others. When you're stressed, you become distracted. You don't pay attention as well. You become more concerned for your own survival, and less able to deal with the world around you. You are less likely to give other people time. You are less likely to entertain new ideas. You are probably more likely to shout, to turn your stress into anger and to blame others for your misfortune. When you're stressed, you are probably even more likely to litter and to pollute, less likely to recycle, less interested in the consequences of your actions. You just can't cope.
That's why I believe that a decision not to pass on stress is one of the most ethical decisions you can make. By not passing on your stress, you are putting a stop to your own role in this global escalation. It is also, of course, an act of deep kindness.
When you refuse to pass on stress, you also learn how not to take it on. And each time stress stops with you, there will be less of it coming back your way.
So today, I ask you to take this vow: "Today, I will try to notice when I'm stressed. When I notice that I am stressed, I will immediately do a moment of meditation—or whatever works—to make sure I don't pass it on."
Imagine a world in which the general escalation of stress began to wind down. Imagine a world in which, instead of passing on stress, we passed on a sense of openness and joy. Imagine if we treated the next moment more gently. Imagine if each person you encountered were trying to help you have a better day. Imagine if you could do that for someone else.
Martin Boroson is a playful, practical new voice in the next wave of meditation teachers. Author of One-Moment Meditation: Stillness for People on the Go, he lectures on the benefits of a meditative mind for decision-making and leadership. Marty studied philosophy at Yale, earned an MBA from the Yale School of Management and is a formal student of Zen. Visit his website for One-Moment Meditation® help and resources, tweet him at @takeamoment or find him on Facebook.
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Published on April 27, 2010