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Making Stress your Friend

Updated: Mar 10

What is stress?  We hear the word stress everywhere and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of visits to the doctor are believed to be stress-related.  Stress can be defined as the body’s physiological response to perceived challenges; stress it is a product of fear, anxiety and worries.  This physical response produces a rush of adrenaline and other hormones that speed up your heart and breathing and give you a burst of energy so you can respond to danger.  This works very well if you must fight or run away from predators who want to hurt you, but it’s not as helpful if your stress is caused by scary thoughts in your own mind.  The body responds the same way if the cause for stress is real or imagined.  We are the source of most of our stress because we tend to create scary scenarios and bad outcomes in our mind that our body believes them to be true, and it responds accordingly.

In our modern world, the causes of stress can be everyday circumstances, such as relationships, work, money, moving, and difficult decisions. They can also be traumatic events, such as the death of a loved one, natural disasters, and past traumas that keep re-playing in your mind.  However, just like happiness, what creates stress varies from person to person and what causes you to stress may not be an issue to your partner or your best friend.

Dr. Lissa Rankin in her book Mind Over Medicine shares the scientific data that proves how feelings such as loneliness, work stress, pessimism, fear, depression, and anxiety can all trigger stress responses, while positive belief, loving connections, healthy sexuality, creative expression, gathering together in spiritual community, and meditation can initiate relaxation responses.  She adds that when the mind shifts from fear to love, the mind can heal the body.  And it’s not some fuzzy new age metaphysical thing, it is simple physiology, she emphasizes.

Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist, offers us a new way to see stress in order to be healthier.  She explored startling research findings that stress may only have negative health consequences if you believe that it will.  She suggests that instead of fearing stress, befriend it and see the positive benefits of it, such us finding the lesson to be learned with the experience.  It’s important to know that most of these research studies are about acute, short term or moderate stress –the kind that is short lived and related to something specific.  Chronic stress, on the other hand, is not quite so great.

How can one make peace with emotions like fear, worry and anger that cause the stress?  Learning to make fear our friend can be an enlightening process in addition to dramatically reducing stress. We can begin with accepting that life is presenting us with a challenge, without judgement even if we don’t like it.  And instead of fighting it, give it room and space to just be and stop asking why or wanting things to be different than the way they are.  We can also use anger to become energized and propel us to do something positive.  I have used anger to do physical exercise or cleaning until I can process the emotion with calmness and more insight.  I often meditate until my fear subsides and my mind is clear. 

Avoiding the emotions of fear, worry and anger is like putting a ball under water, it will not stay.  Follow acceptance with gratefulness by filling your heart with gratitude for all the wonderful gifts that life, and God has given you including the challenges and opportunities for growth that do not feel good at the time we receive them. When we learn to calm down fears, worries, and anxieties we can think more creatively about solutions and choose the best path ahead.


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