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Stress: Friend or Foe

The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. - William James

I googled the word stress and 1,370,000,000 results popped up! I actually had to look at that number twice to make sure I read it correctly! We talk a lot about stress these days. How much stress we are under, how to manage stress, how stress affects us, the symptoms of stress, and on and on.

Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Synonyms listed for stress are pressure, tension, worry, anxiety, trouble, difficulty, distress, trauma, suffering, pain and grief. Ack!

Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D, author of The Upside of Stress says that “how you think about stress matters.” Read that again. HOW you THINK about stress matters. Studies show that one-third of U.S. adults perceived that stress affected their health a lot or to some extent. In fact, those that BELIEVED that stress adversely affected their health had a 43% increase in premature death. It bears repeating- how you think about stress matters.

Your thoughts actually produce stress hormones that either support your ability to cope, or cause harm to your body. If you think “I’ve got this!” your body produces oxytocin and DHEA in addition to cortisol and adrenaline to promote bonding and learning and you feel excited, enthusiastic, energized and confident. If you think “I can’t handle this” your body’s response is an increased heart rate with a restriction of blood flow, dizziness, sweating and feelings of anger, fear and self-doubt.

So, how can you take distress (negative stress) and turn it into eustress (positive stress)?

Here is a good place to start:

1. Become aware- We hear this word a lot- awareness. But how many times have you reacted to a situation and then caught yourself and thought “what is wrong with me?” It’s not until you take some time to get quiet that you realize what set you off.

2. Feel- Allow whatever it is you are feeling to come up to the surface. Your feelings are a barometer for your thoughts. And when you give yourself the space to allow your feelings to bubble up you are better able to let them go, rather than fester within you.

3. Share- We are wired for support. When the hormone oxytocin is released it motivates us to seek support. Oxytocin causes us to crave physical contact (yes, those hugs really do help us feel better) and to be more compassionat