How do you view stress, for good or bad?
By re framing our stress, we can move towards a much healthier and rewarding life
In each session with my clients I talk about our tendency to negatively introspect about the future or the past. Our minds are naturally drawn to negative scenarios and this is inbuilt to ensure our survival. We are wired deep down in our primitive and emotional, limbic system to survive.
Nowadays, the challenges that we face are very different and the word that is used as an ‘umbrella’ term for all of these situations, from a bill that needs paying to a member of our family who is ill, is stress.
I’m so stressed, the mother in law is coming for dinner tonight!
I’m so stressed, I just don’t know how I am going to pay the gas bill.
I’m so stressed, I’ve got to give a speech tomorrow.
I’m so stressed, I’ve got 10, 8-year old's coming for Jim’s party tomorrow.
I’m so stressed, I want to visit mum at the care-home, and I need to get back home for the kids.
I’m so stressed, I’m so busy at work and now my boss has told me I have to stay late.
I’m so stressed, my dog has been hit by a car and I don’t know if he’s going to be OK.
You get the idea and I am sure you can add to this list as well as working out which are 'real' stresses, those that might be exciting, and those that are just stuff we have to do.
By labelling everything that we have to do with the word or thought of stress we deliver a negative message to the brain and body. We know that when something bad happens our heart rate goes up, we sweat, our body goes into the fight or flight response and cortisol and adrenaline are produced to help us run. In the short term this is fine and is also great if it’s a situation we need to run from e.g. burning building, or savage bear at our door, but in most situations today, we don’t need to experience this huge rush of negative energy.
Stress is described as the way in which our body reacts to a stimulus and we do this through physical, mental, and emotional responses.
We can then split stress into three different categories:
Stress can be good or bad! Yes, there is good stress, even a small amount of stress has been proven to be good because it motivates us, without us even realising the physiological affects it has on us. However, long term chronic stress due to money worries, job uncertainty or illness of a loved one is detrimental to our well-being and can have a huge impact on our physical health.
Then we have Anxiety which is often thought of as a reaction to stress, the heart racing, sweaty palms, often diminished hearing, lack of basic knowledge and understanding, which sets off the primitive flight or fight scenario. Blood is pumped through the body to the legs to encourage movement and the feelings can remain after a particularly stressful situation. It is a reaction that occurs emotionally, physically, and cognitively.
Finally, we have Worry which follows on from the anxiety and is a continuous loop of negative thoughts and fears.
Some people will feel one or all of these, they maybe a worrier or they may feel constantly stressed but here is the interesting bit – We can re frame this thing called stress.
I have recently watched the Tedtalk by Kelly McGonigal’s called ‘How to make Stress your friend’.
From acute stress situations we become more collaborative as a community, take the recent global pandemic and all the wonderful ways that neighbours have been supporting each other. Scientists have also found that when we become stressed, we produce a neuro-steroid called DHEA. This helps our brain to grow stronger, like the saying ‘strength through adversity’ and it has been shown to counter the cortisol that is produced. We are encouraged in this ‘stress’ state to ask for help and to be more connected to those around us. Another important hormone that gets forgotten in the stress situation is oxytocin which is also know as the ‘cuddle hormone’. It makes us more empathetic, helps to strengthen our heart and widens the blood vessels to allow a constant flow of blood around the body.
Rather than jumping to the “Oh I’m stressed and embracing the feeling of heightened anxiety. Lets all take a moment and when our heart rate increases think about why? Is it something I need to change, or do, or am I excited?
Stress = Excitement Really?
It has been found that it does, when we are doing the zip wire, parachute jump, watching a scary film or sitting an exam the stress we feel then is due to excitement and anticipation. The feelings are the same, heart rate increases, slight sweat about the body BUT we are having fun or looking forward to the next step on our journey.
So rather than letting ‘stress’ become the fall guy for all our challenges in life lets turn that stress into a positive force. One that we embrace and work with – Just by changing our mind set and deciding that the stress we are feeling is a positive power within us then we can begin to harness all the good energy from it, we can choose if we go down the anxiety and worry road or we can choose the excitement, enlightenment, learning, challenge and motivation lane.
We know about the cortisol and the adrenaline that gets the heart racing and our body ready to run, if we really have a situation that is life threatening, but we now also know that with a positive attitude and a moment of clarity that we have the DHEA and oxytocin.
So challenge yourself – be conscious when you “feel” stressed. Then ask yourself are you really? Then imagine all the lovely DHEA strengthening your brain and the oxytocin making your heart stronger and you more empathetic.
Give it a go and see how much better you feel, how more in control and relaxed, excited and how much more joy you have in your life.
I’ve also included a link to Kelly McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress, where she describes this new way of viewing stress, watch enjoy and remember that ‘change is inevitable, it’s the only constant that we have’.
The Upside of stress (book) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cfIqjWbVAE 5 mins