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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 compassionate and empathetic. Our desire for human connection is built into us to help us support each other.

4. Practice The Four Seeds of Self-Care- Taking the time to eat well, move your body, sleep well and meditate will help bring energy, clarity and create a positive attitude when you are feeling stressed.

Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one. - Hans Selye

So, what transition are you experiencing? Going back to school? A new job? Having a baby? Kids growing up and moving on to college? We are always going to face new challenges and “stresses” in life. The question is- how are you going to face those changes? What mind-set will you have to cope with the inevitable changes in life? Will you view it as an opportunity to grow and become stronger and more resilient? Or, will you let it rob you of the joy and meaning of a rich life?

In the past decade alone I have gone through a financial crisis, watched my oldest son go off to start his own life, relocated my family to another state, lost a parent, changed jobs and raised two more children who are now close to graduating and going off to college while my husband changed careers and entered grad school. Some of these changes/challenges I have handled with more grace and ease than others. During some of these transitions I allowed my fears of the future to take over and became stressed. But, as I move through these experiences and grow, I get better at catching myself and changing my mind-set to become more positive. I realize all of the things that I have learned and the ways that I have grown. And I have become more grateful. And joyful.

Join us for our next ConnectEd Workshop, on August 25th to dive into these ideas even more.

Connect with your community and support each other so that you can embrace stress like a friend, rather than fight with it like an enemy!

With Love & Gratitude,

Kinda and Rachel

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