People who are being damaged by stress are often in situations they see as unchangeable. Frequently they try meditation, take a Yoga class or go to lectures on dealing with stress. All of these can help, but let’s take another look at the possibility of changing the stressful environments that are triggering stress reactions.
If we think of these situations as a whole, it is very understandable why they seem unchangeable. If your job is the problem, it may also pay well or have other benefits that are hard to replace. Similarly, when the main source of stress is a marriage, you may have to face risks of damage to children, being thrown into a much more difficult financial situation, or getting trapped in a life of loneliness.
So the idea that exiting your situation is hopeless makes sense.
However, all of this fails to consider the potential of small changes. If you can’t get out of your situation, small changes in it may be a good alternative.
We have never found a better concise account of the power of small changes than the following quotation from Susan and Larry Terkel’s book “Small Change”:
“Small change adds up. This is worth repeating: small change adds up. Empty your small change in a jar every day, and watch the total add up over time. Make small changes in your daily habits – such as your meals or snacks, your relationships, your work, or your leisure- and watch those changes gradually accumulate into a much healthier, happier, and more satisfying life.”
“An angle of only one degree is difficult to draw on a piece of paper. It is too small. If a flight from New York to Los Angeles is off course by just one degree, the plane will arrive closer to Tijuana, Mexico, than Los Angeles.”
“Small changes can get us back on course as easily as the can lead us off course”.
We discussed small change in several earlier posts, e.g. here and here. The concept came back to mind recently when Gretchen Reynolds published an article in the New York Times on the benefits of being in “green space”, the outdoors where the view includes trees and plants.
It is easy to discard the idea of adding time in green space to your life. It seems to be a minor benefit.
However, there is an abundance of research confirming that the experience of green space, even something as minimal as seeing that space through a window, is linked to a wide variety of positive effects. These effects include such things as buffering against the negative health impact of stressful life events, reducing stress hormones, reducing brooding over what is wrong with ourselves and our lives, relieving depression, reducing anxiety, etc.
Ms. Reynolds article was mainly about research in which a randomly selected half of volunteers were asked to take a stroll in a green space and the other half walked the same length on an urban path near a busy highway.
The researchers found that the group that walked in green space showed a reduction in obsessive rumination about themselves and their lives, but those who walked in the urban environment did not.
The investigators also measured activity in a brain area, the subgenual gyrus, which previous research implicated in sadness, the onset of depressive episodes and other mental disorders. Walking in green space reduced activity in the subgenual gyrus. Walking in the urban environment did not.
If something as simple as a walk in a “green” park can enhance your ability to deal with life’s challenges, there are probably many other aspects of your life situation that can be changed and give your resilience a valuable edge in the effort to live well.