Ohhh STRESS… I don’t think anyone can doubt that stress is one of those key areas in our lives that needs serious addressing.
We tell ourselves that it’s only this week, this event, this project, this time of year… but once that’s over, we will be able to relax… except that then something else pops up.
... talking on the phone checking facebook, and painting your pretty toe nails at the same time...
... taking on more projects than you can handle to impress your boss...
... wanting to be the best girlfriend, friend, wive, mother on earth while juggling a successful career...
... staying on top of finances, bills and the household...
Stress is the most common root cause for discomfort, pain, disease, anxiety, depression, and ultimately even death. Anything from a common cold to fertility problems, cancer, cardiovascular disease … you name it, stress somehow seems to play a role in it.
There are external stressors (finances, your job, what you eat) and there are internal stressors (worry, emotional hardships, self-doubt, guilt, fear). External and internal stressors interplay with one another and often exacerbate the stress your experience.
I recently read a survey about Stress in America, published by the American Psychological Association and was seriously shocked about what I read. Here is what they found:
•42 % report that their stress levels have increased over the past 5 years
•36 % say stress affects their overall happiness a great deal
•37 % have felt overwhelmed in the past month by stress
•48 % report "being unable to control the important things in their life very or fairly often.”
In addition, they looked specifically into how stress affects teens in staggering numbers, but also how it affects sleep, exercise, and eating (27% of us eat to manage stress… hello belly fat & eating issues). If you want to know more -personally I can geek out over statistics- click here.
What I realized as I was reading these numbers, however, is that YES, we absolutely are exposed to a lot of stress in our lives and reducing stress is key for optimal health BUT, let’s be real: eradicating ALL stress is simply impossible. Moderate amounts of stress or good stress can actually give us the energy and urgency to get things done, feel excited, and come closer to meeting our dream goals.
The problem arises when stress become chronic and persistent. When we become addicted to it and think that unless we are stressed, we are not productive or working hard enough.
What’s as important as reducing stressful events in our lives, is changing our response to stress.
What do I mean by that?Instead of turning “stress into the enemy” as Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a Stanford University Psychologist says, what if we began to see it as a part of our lives and actually used it as an energizer? Her studies, which she shares in her TED talk How To Make Stress Your Friend, found that those people who reported that they experienced a lot of stress AND believed that stress is harmful were much more likely to die from stress than those who didn’t believe stress was harmful.
Your beliefs matter.
So, instead of spending all of your energy telling yourself how awful stress is and how much you have to avoid it, what if you began to change how you perceive stress.
Dr. McGonigal found that if you can change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s reaction to it. Meaning if you interpreted your pounding heart before a presentation not as a potential anxiety attack, but a helpful energy boost from your body that will carry more oxygen to your brain and will help you be extra sharp, your actual physiology will change as well. For example, instead of your blood vessels constricting which can lead to cardiovascular disease if prolonged, they will remain relaxed so blood can flow nice and easy and continue to carry nutrients to your cells EVEN THOUGH your heart rate went up. This is what happens in moments of joy by the way!
Now that you KNOW this, what can you DO? This is where oxytocin comes in. Oxytocin -also lovingly called the cuddle hormone:)- is released in response to stress along with other hormones like adrenalin. However, oxytocin also strengthens your heart and essentially builds stress resilience. What’s important to note is that oxytocin is also released as a result of human connection.
What that means is that human connection strengthens your heart and builds stress resilience. Caring for others in particular was connected to a 0% stress-related death rate in over 1000 observed individuals.
Caring creates resilience.
“How you think and how you act can transform your experience of stress. When you chose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage.” -Dr. McGonigal
Of course, I am not saying to load up on more stress. I do believe that it’s important to keep your exposure to stress (work, environmental, food, self-doubt, negativity, etc.) as low as possible, but I am saying that part of our job of living busy, exciting, and fun lives might just be to learn to handle stress differently - BEFRIENDING YOUR STRESS SYMPTOMS & CARING FOR OTHERS seem to be the best places to start.
I know that stress, anxiety and worry is a big topic and can feel overwhelming, so if you need a lil’ support, let’s hop on the phone for a free 30-min consult to see how I can help you.
In the comments below, I’d love to hear from you: What’s your take-home message? Do you feel that you are experiencing a lot of stress? If yes, what can you try in order to reduce your experience of stress?