Stress can be linked to both external and internal factors. But the truth is that stress is always fundamentally internal – it is the reaction that we bring to a situation that causes stress, not the situation itself. If you experience stress, consider the following – each can increase or prolong your stressful reaction. Try eliminating one at a time for a period of time to see how the change affects your stress levels.

Caffeine and other stimulant drugs
These activate the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares us for emergencies, for “flight or fight” responses. Often these make us more jumpy, anxious and fearful, and interfere with relaxation, rest and sleep. Caffeine is in more than just coffee and colas – it is an ingredient of many over-the-counter and prescription drugs. If you want to lower your level of internal stress and develop your ability to relax and let go of external annoyances, a good place to begin is to eliminate caffeine and its relatives from your life. Because of their action on the sympathetic nervous system, all stimulants, whether natural or synthetic, or in the form of teas or pills, are obstacles to relaxation.

With a profound influence on the nervous system, it is no surprise that some kinds of sound increase our level of arousal and make us tense and anxious. Music has special power to affect consciousness – it is easy to listen unconsciously to sounds that directly and powerfully push the nervous system away from calmness and centeredness. In a way, choosing which sounds to let into your consciousness and which to exclude is like making choices about your mental nutrition. If you want to be excited, stimulated, sexually aroused or prepared for physical violence, by all means listen to the readily available sounds that move you toward those states. If you want to relax and dissipate the tension resulting from external stress, do not make it harder for yourself by receiving those influences.

News reports can also profoundly affect your mental state. They can increase anxiety, give you new possibilities for worry and play on your desire for emotional stimulation. Notice the effect that news has on your mental equilibrium. Like caffeine addiction, news addiction is a major roadblock to learning to relax. Experiment with breaking the news habit, then use your power of choice to tune into news selectively and consciously.

Agitated minds
Others who are agitated will affect your level of agitation. A kind of resonance takes place in the realm of consciousness. If you are in the presence of calm, centered persons, your internal tension diminishes and you let go of some of your stress without making any effort to do so. If you are in the presence of people who are excited, angry or anxious, you will naturally move toward those states. Pay attention to your internal responses to the people you associate with. As much as possible, avoid the company of agitated minds.