Can stress be positive? The answer is YES
In the hustle and bustle of city life, stress has become a way of life. If you aren’t stressed, you must not be working hard enough, right? You can’t possibly succeed if you aren’t sporting the external or internal wounds of a great battle, long hard days and nights….right? Wrong! If you are THAT stressed, you are one day closer to death. How about that for a bold statement – and it’s true. Bio chemically we recognize that stress increases the production of cortisol; which in small quantities acts as an anti-inflammatory; however in large doses, like in cases of sustained stress it can be toxic. The adrenal glands have to work twice as hard, pumping out adrenaline and cortisol, suppressing the immune system and activating our fight or flight response. This in turn, is the starting point of that perpetual cycle of anxiety that many of us high functioning people feel, but what if I told you stress could be good? What if I told you by simply changing your perspective and relationship to stress – it could be good for your health, not always bad. Much like anything in life “good” vs “bad” feelings are just that – how we feel. Change your thoughts, and ultimately you change your feels and meaning you place on any one word… and today that word is stress.
In a recent Ted Talk called “How to Make Stress Your Friend” Kelly McGonigal PhD, is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, and a leading expert in the new field of “science-help” urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to how we can choose to change how we feel about stress and offers us the best possible model for stress reduction: reaching out to others.
Dr. McGonigal reveals startling findings—including the clinically supported methods for training the mind away from default states and negativity that no longer serve us and establishing behaviors and attitudes aligned with our highest values and aspirations. As the world’s wisdom traditions teach and science is now verifying, our lives are in fact defined by constant change, when we can understand our biological and biochemical make up are rooted in connection, and compassion and that when we reach out to others we improve our health. Now, doesn’t that make you feel a bit better about your health?
In this Ted Talk one study tracked 1000 adults in the US ranging in ages form 34 to 93. They were asked two questions? How much stress have you experienced in the last year? They also asked how much time have you spent helping out neighbors, family, friends, and people in your community? And then they used public records to find out who died.
Stress is the number one contributor to most preventable diseases in our world and for every major stressful experience you have (like really stressful) this increases the risk of dying by 30%. BUT, these studies will show that wasn’t true for everyone; people who spent time caring for others showed no increase in stress related dying in bio markers. The catalyst – caring created resilience. How we think, and how we act transform how we use stress. When we choose to view our stress response as helpful, we create the biology of courage and when we choose to connect with others under stress, we create resilience.
Stress gives us access to our hearts and to the science of our brain – a compassionate heart, one of joy, love and appreciation for others. This gives us strength and energy. And thus, we make a pretty profound statement – we say to ourselves that we CAN face life’s challenges and that we do not have to do it alone. In last week’s article we talked about the Vagus nerve (compassion nerve) and how we are hard wired to connect with others, to be of service to others and to nurture healing within ourselves. The universe wants us to be happy, but not without a little hard work put forth first! This brings me to my second point of “stress” and that is “time.” As we age we seem to lose track of time, the seasons change, the days go by, sometimes it feels like there is just too much to do and not enough time.
What is time?
I recently taught at a workshop in Salinas California called “The Evolution Power Pack” held at Wolf Fitness Systems; a movement based health and wellness company who organized a two day smorgasbord of modules and workshops which were designed to cultivate the power behind connecting with our personal potential, using the power behind movement sophistication and physical challenges.
In the first module; Shane Heins, founder and owner of “Dare to Evolve,” opened with a profound statement that set the tone for the rest of the weekend.
His booming voice asked the participants; “this weekend I ask you to deeply reflect upon the idea of time, we know that we cannot change time, but we can choose to change our relationship to it.”
The ultimate vision behind Shane’s module “Clubbell Hero Evolution” offered each of us the opportunity to create room and space for transformation through connecting to what our personal goal were for the weekend.
This brought up an element of stress for me as I moved through the weekend, because it showcased some of the areas of my life that I find challenging to accept and process, yet are fundamentally on the flip side opportunities for growth and evolution. My goal was to create space for self-compassion; like in the hero’s journey – to feel liberated and to understand that one does not need to suffer to succeed, that one can succeed through ease and grace. Some of the questions I found myself pondering were:
What patterns do I accept and acknowledge in my own life that require change?
What lessons am I learning or repressing?
What patterns am I repeating that no longer serve me?
What is my relationship to time and am I creating the life I want to live?
Why am I holding onto fear? What is it about the words” succeed with ease and grace” so daunting to me. Why do I feel I need to suffer, bleed, sweat and shed a few tears to succeed in life? And how does this relate to self compassion? What is self compassion?… and down the rabbit hole we go!
In Shane’s follow up blog to the attendees he showcased the importance of what it means to “Participate or Contribute,” and it dawned on me – was I contributing or just merely participating. In simplistic terms; was a creating my own future or merely just on the sidelines. Participating is great, but it has a limited expiration date, if you do not contribute you miss out on a lot of data needed for long term change. It’s like the old saying – “give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll feed himself for a lifetime,” or something to that nature.
Here is a short excerpt from his blog Participate or Contribute:
“There is a fine line between Participate and Contribute. That difference resides in the choice you make.
When we participate:
- we are there, but it does not necessitate that we be “present”.
- we need only take part, not take whole
- we are in a position to receive without having to give.
- we can do so without commitment
When we contribute:
- we invest wholeheartedly in what lies before us
- we give of ourselves honestly to exploring the process
- we step forward with the courage to share the best part of ourselves with each other
- we value all present
- we are grateful for all involved
The Stress of Challenge and Adversity can Be GOOD:
It is almost impossible to eliminate all stress, but how we relate to it determines the outcome of our health and our prosperity in life. There is such a thing as “good stress.” Our goal should be to keep our stress level manageable. If we start to move away from those negative self-defeating thoughts we say to ourselves that are self-critical or when we assume the worst about someone or some-thing, we can move towards positive self-talk; which is a way of “re-programming” our brains and our attachments to “stressful” situations.
Many of the worries and anxieties we have are not based in the here-and-now circumstances of our lives, but are projections into the future – a future that may never happen. We each have a choice and an opportunity to pull back the reins and change our relationship to stress. Much like movement and health – routine and habits are created through committed, sustained practice. So the next time you feel stressed, take a step back and ask yourself why. If you can’t change the stressful situation ask your-self how you can change your relationship to it, to find the opportunity for growth, I guarantee you’ll feel much better and hey, maybe even perhaps turn that frown upside down!
- Dr. Kelly McGonigal Ted Talk” How to Make Stress your Friend:” http://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend.html
- Dare to Evolve: http://daretoevolve.tv/