Are you familiar with what's been called that Sunday feeling? It's a form of anxiety that comes from being aware of the emptiness of your life once the working week is over. You feel bored, directionless and apathetic, filled with a pervading sense of discontent, all arising from a feeling of meaninglessness.
The phenomenon was first written about by Vicktor Frankl more 60 years ago. Frankl was a truly remarkable man, a Holocaust survivor who became a renowned psychiatrist and humanist. His book Man's Search For Meaning chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate, which led him to discover the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, a reason to continue living, in even the most challenging conditions.
In one of his quotes, he puts his finger on the central issue."Between stimulus and response there's a space. In that space lies our power to choose our response. And in our response lies our growth and our freedom."
In other words, he says there's a moment of choice before we react to the stress and pain in life. Mostly, however, we're unaware of this space because we're trapped in habitual patterns of reaction.
For example, you are driving along when another car cuts you up and almost causes an accident. You curse the driver. Anger boils up within. Your heart rate surges. You grip the wheel more tightly. You think: "That driver needs needs to be taught a lesson". You speed up so you can overtake and stare him down.
It all happens instantly and automatically, but if you look for it, there is a space between stimulus and reaction. You could have thought to yourself. "You know, reacting to the other driver will only increase my stress, so what's the point?" You might even think: "He's obviously not having a very good day to be driving like that. I hope his day gets better".
In that moment you are sitting in the space between stimulus and response. You can notice what's happening to you physically as the stress reaction kicks in and choose to take a few deep breaths, let your shoulders relax and allow the incident to evaporate.