I've been so excited to write about stress.
Does that sound weird? Let me explain...
Stress, especially around the holidays, is a big deal. Everyone's talking about it. And with good reason -- there's a ridiculous amount to get done! There's work and holiday parties and finding that life-transforming gift and getting the decorations up and making travel plans and dealing with family politics.... I won't go on, I'm sure you're all too familiar with your own to-do list. For me, even if it's all fun stuff on that list, it adds up and can quickly become overwhelming.
To top it all off, we're told we shouldn't stress. As if it were that easy. As if there were some kind of stress/relax switch we could flip on and off. Wouldn't that be lovely!
The reality is, we're told that stress is bad for our health, causing insomnia, weight gain, heart disease, you name it. Great. So now I can add stress to the list of things to stress about, and meditation or yoga another item on the to do list.
I have spent so much of my life trying to take deep breaths. Trying to relax. Telling myself that the knot in my belly, the tightness in my shoulders, the racing heart... it's all bad for me and I must get rid of it.
Well, guess what? All that yoga, deep breathing, gratitude-journaling... it didn't take away my stress.
Because stress is the natural result of giving a shit.
I stress because I care. I stress because I want to do a good job at work. I want to have a meaningful impact on others' lives. It's important to me to respect others and show up on time. I care that my family gets along with each other. It matters that I fit in time for exercise, cooking and QT with my friends. This all puts on the pressure and that's ok.
Stress is a natural result of having a meaningful life.
So what's a girl to do?
Transform your stress mindset.
I decided to change my mind about stress.
Well, first, I watched a life-changing TedTalk by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. psychologist at Stanford called How to Make Stress Your Friend, followed by reading her book, The Upside of Stress. Then I drank the kool-aid.
Her research shows that stress kills, yes. But, ONLY among those who believe their stress is bad for them.
Get this -- A study with over 30,000 adults asked about stress levels and their perception of that stress. Risk of premature death increased by 43% among those who held beliefs such as,
- Stress depletes my health and vitality.
- Stress debilitates my performance and productivity.
- Stress has a negative impact and should be avoided.
By contrast, risk of premature death decreased among those with equally high amount of stress in their lives, but who held positive beliefs about their stress, such as:
- Tension makes me more alive & engaged
- Pressure enhances my focus & productivity
- Obstacles push me to learn & grow
- Challenges inspire me to perform better
- Stress enables me to rise to the occasion
How is this possible? How can your belief make such a huge impact on your health?
The book goes into the fascinating physiology, explaining how the way we think can literally alter the hormone cocktail that's released in response to stress. Those that resist that difficult situation release more of the cortisol, the fight or flight hormone. Those that embrace the challenge release more DHEA, a hormone responsible for stimulating an "excite & delight" response.
But that's just the beginning.
The most powerful message from this research is that how you think determines how you act.
Those that resist stress and try to get rid of it tend to have detrimental coping mechanisms. They procrastinate. They see anything stressful as a harmful intrusion on their life. They avoid difficult conversations and say no to opportunities. They try to escape by vegging out with Netflix or drinking their woes away. They tend to be more isolated, trying to deal with their issues on their own without burdening others.
For me, believing stress was bad fed an underlying belief that something is fundamentally wrong with me. This seriously got in the way of enjoying my life!
On the flip side, those that embrace stress are more likely to take positive action. They accept reality and seek solutions. They view hard times as an opportunity to grow and build self-confidence. They share their experience with others, forming stronger social networks and deeper friendships.
Mindset changes are not a magic trick.
Changing your mindset is a powerful catalyst to take action.
So what can you do about your stress?
Change your mindset by following these steps:
- Feel it. When feeling stressed, the first step is to fully acknowledge it and feel it. It's hard. It sucks and that's ok. You don't have to wish it away.
- View your stress as meaningful. Stress means there's something in your life that matters. Think about what you value in life and why this is important to you. This stress is part of having a meaningful life.
- Trust your own strength & resilience. Think of other times that you have gotten through stressful circumstances. Recognize that you do get through it. You can trust yourself to rise to the challenge. Tough times make you tough.
- Harness the energy. A rush of adrenaline, you know, a racing heart, racing thoughts, shallow breathing, etc., is your body's natural way of giving you the energy needed to rise to the occasion. Harness that energy to take action toward your goals.
Viewing your stress as bad and something to get rid of is just a story and you're not stuck to it. You have a choice in what you believe.
Stress means you're living a full-hearted life. Take that stress and make it serve you.
Here's to a holiday season of giving a shit!
With Love & Zest,