Job Stress Giving You a Case of the Mondays? Outthink Your Anxiety

An honest inquiry into the source of stress in your life will yield some surprising results. If you're mindful, present, and inquiring, you won't be able to fool yourself, says Byron Katie.

The Work is basic inquiry, and it takes one into a meditative state. Let's say if you're very stressed out you just become still. And you identify what you were thinking and believing in that situation. Let's say I'm at work and I have the thought, you know, “This job is stressing me out.”

So I would simply, now that that thought is identified, just write it down on a piece of paper. It's stabilized from mind to reality; it's solid, identified and anchored. “This job, my job is stressing me out. Is it true that my job is stressing me out?” And the first response might be “Yes, yes, yes it's true my job stresses me out. And he said this and she said that, and this is more than I can handle.” Okay, no that's not inquiry, that's a discussion. So now we slow it down, look at the paper. “This job is stressing me out. Is it true that this job is stressing me out?” Now the answer to the first two questions is one syllable, it's either “yes” or “no.” This is inquiry. Any defense or justification or story is not inquiry, inquiry is to get still and let the answer show you. It comes out as a “yes” or “no.” And so we just meditate on that until - that's why I say it could take a while for some of us.

And then, “My job is stressing me out. Can I absolutely know that it's my job that's stressing me out?” Okay. Get really still. “Can I absolutely know that it's my job that's stressing me out?” Yes. So to imagine that it's “no,” you're just guessing at the right answer. So it has to be authentic. You cannot fool you. You can't fool you. So some people say ultimately every answer is “no.” A “yes” to me is as valid as a “no” to someone else. This is personal work.

So let's say I'm at a “Yes. So it's my job that's stressing me out. My job stresses me out.” How do I react when I believe that thought? So I close my eyes; I see me taking it home with me; I see me frustrated at work; I'm short with my children, my husband; I want to quit. Then I worry about money and security, letting my family down. I blame even innocent people at work. I'm focused on work. Most of the time I'm paid for eight hours but I'm 24/7 waking hours I'm at work in my head. And a lot of us can go further with that. It's like “How do I react when I believe the thought. If we get really still we can see that's when we go for the chocolate cake or the cigarette we said we'd never smoke again or the alcohol. 

“My job is stressing me out. Who would I be without that thought?” And I start with “Right here, right now I'm at my desk, who would I be without the thought my job is stressing me out?” Okay. So all of a sudden “I’m present and there's nothing here to stress me out. There's nothing here to stress me out. There's a desk. There's my computer. There are people working that are not even speaking to me. My job is not stressing me out.” So I look at the paper, again, “My job is stressing me out and I'm going to turn it around, my job is not stressing me out.” So I might turn it around because we have an object, “My thoughts about my job are stressing me out; my thinking is stressing me out. So is that as true or truer? It's completely true. My thoughts about this job stress me out. So for me that completely shows me an innocent world, in other words all the people I'm working with, my boss, my workload completely innocent, it's what I'm thinking and believing about it that is the cause of my stress.”

So, another turnaround as I sit in this might be “I am stressing my job out.” Well, what does that mean to me? That doesn't mean much to people, but this is my inquiry; I'm sitting in this; this is my meditation. So, “I’m stressing my job out.” And then I begin to see when I'm stressed out how I approach people. “I’m short. I can be argumentative. When I think my workload is just too much my job is stressing me out, I'm rushed; I'm not connected, when other people need help I'm not available; I'm not compassionate, not understanding; I isolate; thinking that I don't have time for this person or that project, I'm just focused on this.” So I find I'm selfish with my time. “I miss people, connecting with them, and I've lost the ability to connect with them. I'm not connected to myself, I'm just thinking that my job is stressing me out.”

So you really can't guess if you're doing authentic inquiry, not rational thinking but just listening, witnessing, watching, being aware. Everything shifts, the way you see everything shifts and that the creative mind is weightless.


An honest inquiry into the source of stress in your life will yield some surprising results. If you're mindful, present, and inquiring, you won't be able to fool yourself, says Katie Byron. Rather than analyze the source of your stress, simply ask yourself this series of yes/no questions. Analysis often leads to defensiveness of self-justification, but investigating your own mental state will reveal a more essential truth to you: how you feel about what's happening around you.

By reorienting the perspective from which you analyze your stress, you will come to think differently about it. This is especially powerful when we realize that we experience stress primarily as a mental condition. It may be that focussing on your job as the source of stress in your life may contribute to those very feelings.

Katie is the author of A Thousand Names for Joy.

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Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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