Utilizing Mindfulness in the Face of Stress: External Demands vs. Internal Resources


Stress is an experience we all know very intimately. Many of us discover that it is part of our everyday conversations. Or we may find that we don’t discuss it with others and keep it quietly to ourselves. Regardless, it can be hard to admit that stress shows up in every area of our lives. We can try to avoid it, deny it, wish it away through our optimistic thinking, or try to outsmart it through our afflictive ambitious strategies of planning, list making, over-scheduling, and the like. It may seem as though stress is built into the fabric of our experience and it follows us everywhere that we go.

Listen to this Practice of the Month on building resilience in the face of stress and read more below. We will explore some tools in which mindfulness can help us build resiliency in the face of ongoing stress.

What is Stress?

Stress is the thought, feeling or attitude that I don’t have the internal resources to meet the external demands. If we are honest, our lives might feel like one external demand after the other. So, let’s just acknowledge that, and start building some internal resources.

If we look into the history books, we see that stress is a term that originates in physics, not psychology. In the early 1900’s when skyscrapers were being built in the major cities of the United States, the question was: “Does this building have enough of concrete and steel to hold itself up?”

For those of you who have been inside of an old elevator you may have seen a sign that reads: Stress Load, 2000 lbs. Which means that if you put more than 2000 lbs. in the elevator, it won’t go up.

If we take a moment to honestly reflect on recent events in our lives, how often do we feel as though we don’t have what it takes to get through a particular challenge or struggle? What is the range of stress in your daily life? How could you be better resourced to manage it?

Moments of Stress

Moments of stress, accompanied by the onset of overwhelm, typically begin with three thoughts:

  1. Something is wrong.
  2. There isn’t enough ____. (fill in the blank)
  3. I need to do something.

Does this sound familiar? Let’s bring mindfulness into this equation and see where our agency lies.

Mindfulness: Our Greatest Internal Resource for Stress Reduction

Mindfulness is our greatest internal resource. With the development of short moments of awareness, we can find a pause. If we can remember to recognize that we have the ability bring presence and ease to any circumstance, we are better able to reevaluate and respond rather than react. We begin to acknowledge that a great deal of our stress is perceived, assumed or forecasted. Finding moments where we can wake up from the ruminations and the predictions of our wanderings minds is our greatest tool for stress reduction.

The steady development of this mindful intervention gives rise to confidence and resilience in our own abilities to do well, and to do better. Each small victory becomes the seed for future possibilities and we should feel encouraged by this.

Perhaps, mindfulness can remind us that we have got it all backwards. We spend too much of our lives frantically running amuck trying our best, with often little to no avail to avoid, change, or control external demands. With ongoing mindfulness practice, we begin to develop resilience in the face of stress. To be resilient, is the ability to overcome a challenge.

The hard part for many of us is the fact that resilience is always accompanied by a challenge, and we simply don’t like that. Mindfulness gives us the proper perspective and needed tools to accomplish this task. We can slowly, over time, shift our paradigm to become more interested and skilled in developing internal resources, and less preoccupied trying to control external demands.

Reframing Stress

We can revisit these common themes of stress and see if we can offer ourselves a reframe.

  1. Nothing is wrong, I am facing a challenge.
  2. I do have the resources to meet this experience.
  3. I need to take a pause and ground myself in this moment, just as it is.

By grounding ourselves in presence, we develop the potential to respond, rather than to react.