Stress is a constant in most of our lives. Stress is certainly my constant companion, and I have generally thought of stress as a bad thing. I have been taught that feeling cool, calm, and collected is the only way to be. If I feel stressed my mind usually is quick to think that my body cannot handle it and the stress is damaging. My mind goes to this thought, “Stress is ruining my body!!!!” Then that thought causes even more stress!
Here’s the but…..
What if we told ourselves a different story about stress? What if we told ourselves as human beings we evolved to feel stress and our bodies can handle it? Actually our bodies were designed to handle it. What if we told ourselves stress was actually a valuable tool; a way to alert us to potential dangers. If we didn’t feel stress we might stay in situations that were all wrong for us, living in ways that didn’t support us, and never feel pushed out of our comfort zones.
What if we told ourselves that stress was a good thing? When you are excited your body reacts in similar ways to feeling stressed and anxious, but when have you ever heard someone say feeling excited was bad for you? Never.
I personally see stress as a natural and helpful state that provides feedback to us about what is happening so we can assess what we most need. Stress in the moment is not bad. Stress in the moment is good. Your body was designed for it.
Now here’s where the “bad” side of stress comes in. The negative effects of stress happen when we don’t use feelings of stress as a tool to take active measures to bring ourselves back into balance. After the stressful event or the stressful time, we must take action to bring those stress levels down and if we don’t, that is when the problems arise.
Chronic stress, or stress that goes on day after day, month after month and year after year is the stress we need to be concerned about. It’s this constant stress that does inflame our bodies and cause physical and mental health issues. It’s chronic stress that our bodies are not evolved to handle, and chronic stress is often synonymous with modern life.
What are we all to do?
First, learn to identify the ways in which you feel stress in your body or mind. Is it a clenched jaw, tight chest, fluttering heart, sweats, or general muscle tension? Is it intrusive and repetitive thoughts and worries? Work on gaining insight into knowing when you are experiencing stress. This can actually be a very difficult thing to do.
Secondly, remind yourself that stress is a normal and helpful bodily reaction to life. We are meant to feel stress and our bodies and minds can handle this.
Third, identify what is causing this feeling of stress and take action to bring your body back into state of greater calm. Is this something you can change right away? If so, change it. If this something that you can change but will take time? If so, make a plan for change and implement action steps. Is this something you cannot change? If so, brainstorm with a friend on how to get support around it. Don’t keep going down a stressful path alone. Finding help and support is crucial to reducing the chronic stress risk.
Rethinking how you talk to yourself around stress can help you come back into balance with greater ease. It also helps you go with the flow of life a little easier knowing that feeling some stress is expected and natural. The awareness you build around signals of stress can then help you take the action you need to de-stress and bring your body and mind back into balance.