How to Reduce Stress by Keeping Things in Perspective
If you are feeling stressed, take a few moments to look at this picture. Don’t rush and read on just yet; give yourself a few seconds to take in the colours, think about how you feel, and identify the little blue dot.
Don’t try and rub your screen, the dot is supposed to be there! So what is it? A dust particle caught in a ray of sunlight?
Guess again. This is actually a picture of us. The greatest selfie ever taken; this is the photo of our planet that the Voyager 1 probe took from a distance of about 6 billion kilometres, as it passed beyond Neptune. At this distance the Earth takes up less than a pixel’s space on the picture (by the way there are 640,000 other pixels in that image).
The Voyager mission was launched in 1977. It took 13 years for Voyager 1 to travel to the point where it took this photo. Voyager 1 carried on though and in 2013 Voyager 1 actually left the solar system, the first human made object to do so.
How do we manage stress?
Stress is natural, even helpful, but too much of it can be a bad thing. Stress helps us react to challenges and to grow, but too much stress can break us. When we talk about ‘being stressed’ we generally mean being overburdened. When we feel overly stressed it is good to have some techniques to manage the stress and, where possible, turn the pressure into something positive.
One such approach to dealing with stress is keeping a proper perspective.
Have you ever had a challenge in your sights, a test, exam, deadline or project that looked impossibly big, until you were passed it?
Whatever issues we face it is important to acknowledge the facts and have proper situational awareness, but our ability to focus on something – to look closely – often makes challenges seem bigger than they really are.
How do you keep things in perspective?
If you feel yourself getting stressed try to lift your eyes up from the problem and see the bigger picture. I often find that doing this physically can help. Go for a walk somewhere beautiful; look at the ocean, the mountains, the night’s sky.
I find it useful to take time out and contemplate creation to give a broader perspective. Whether I look at the complexity of a blade of grass or the vastness of the solar system, it helps to put my challenges, concerns and ideas into there proper place.
The Wisdom we gain from Perspective
The astronomer Carl Sagan sums things up really well in this thought provoking speech about the Voyager photo:
“We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.
Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.“Carl Sagan, speech at Cornell University, October 13, 1994
See the bigger picture
With environmental issues creeping up in the public consciousness and the political agenda, and yet with so much war and strife across much of our planet, it is good to reflect on our place in the universe and the responsibility with have to look after each other on our Pale Blue Dot.
If we want to lead ourselves and others well we need to keep a proper perspective. Perspective helps to reduce stress and gives us the understanding we need to make good decision and plan effectively.