It’s normal to experience stress. What isn’t normal for the body is not having the chance to recuperate from stress. Most of us lead busy lives, drinking caffeine when we are tired, taking an antacid when we have heartburn, or an anti-inflammatory when we have pain, so that we can keep moving. The problem is that the body is trying to tell us to stop, to take a break in order to rest, recuperate and enable it’s natural healing abilities to kick in.
You see, normally, the human body can handle a lot of stress. In fact, you and your body would not survive without stress, accomplish any tasks or be excited about any endeavor. They key to stress is learning how to use it to your benefit, rather than let it use you to your detriment.
For instance, knowing that stress is a constant in life, it behooves you to make sure you have the strength to handle it and recuperate from it. If you do not give your body (this includes your mind ☺) a chance to regain it’s strength, you abuse it (with lack of sleep, poor food choices, etc.), or doubt it (negative beliefs), you weaken the body’s natural defense mechanisms as well as it’s own ability to repair itself. Stress wins.
How do you win?
You first get smart about what stress is, learning what the common myths about stress are
1. All stress is bad—False. When the body experiences a stress it simply means that there is an imbalance in the system that warrants a correction so that the system can feel better, be back in balance. That can mean a drop in blood sugar, an uncomfortable position or a situation that does not make sense. When the brain recognizes this imbalance, it triggers a cascade of events that then motivate an action that will hopefully correct the problem—like getting food, shifting positions or researching the situation to understand it better. This is how we get motivated to move, to act, to be us! The stress that causes us to go out of balance and stay out of balance is the stress that we perceive to be unmanageable, without a solution (like a worry, a chronic illness, a constant negative belief about oneself, etc.)
2. If you are not experiencing symptoms, you are not in stress—False! Just because you are psychologically are “used to” something, like noise, a screaming boss, feeling tired and waking up with caffeine, or other such situations, it doesn’t mean your body feels the same way.
3. Everyone perceives stress in the same way—False! Perception is actually key in determining how your body reacts to stress. If you look at yourself and your life through the eyes of a victim versus a victor (I can’t handle this versus I can, or why me vs. why not me, bring it), you will more likely be overwhelmed by most challenges causing your stress response to be hyperactivated and your body less able to rest and recuperate to manage the next challenge.
4. People who have more money have less stress—False! Though having a better financial portfolio can lesson the worry around money, it doesn’t take care of all other stresses or the way an individual sees themselves and there lives in general.
5. Stress is a psychological thing—False! Stress comes in many forms—physical, psychological, emotional, even spiritual. Your past experiences and your current beliefs about yourself and your world could be adding to your daily stress, especially if you chronically have self doubt, worry, angry or fear.
Ok, so you are getting a better handle on what stress is. Now what do you want to do about it?
There is actually a lot that is in your power to change.
You can shift your negativity into a positive intention to use stress before it uses you.
In other words, you choose to use stress to your advantage by understanding that any negative feeling, thought, emotion or sensation that you experience, is your body’s way of letting you know there is a challenge present and that you need to be motivated into action.
What you need to then focus on is what kind of action will serve you best. Action from a place of negativity—like fear, anger, grief or even excitement– will often cause more harm than good. You want your action coming from a place of calm and ease—which will allow you to function in a state of ease rather than disease.
You can shift this mindset easily by focusing on your breath.
Inhale deeply until you think you may explode.
Then exhale completely, until there is nothing left.
Inhale again, and notice you can’t help it.
Exhale again, and notice you can’t stop it even if you try.
Notice how there is always a breath in and a breath out.
It is a complete circle.
Repeat these words as the circle of your breath flows:
“I am enough, I have enough.”
That is just one example. In general, by catching yourself in a negative state, you create an opportunity to have a choice—to stay negative or move into a positive state of mind so that you can perceive your situation more openly and experience less stress as a result.
Once you do this breath exercise, you can reassess how less or more balanced you might feel. If this doesn’t work, there are many more tools available in the toolbox such as going for a walk, spending some time in nature, doing a longer meditation, redirect your attention to doing something playful, especially if it includes a pet, etc.