Stress: A Matter of Perspective

Lion- Kom OmboWe are told that stress is the number one cause of illness in the western world. Millions of dollars have been made on trying to control stress in our lives. We have been taught meditation, bio-feed back, given medications and courses on stress management.

But what is ‘stress’? Is it really the ‘bad guy’? And is removing stress the answer?

We are also told that without a certain amount of stress in our lives we will not be happy, that people begin to feel worthless or lack a sense of purpose. We know that if you want to get something done ask a busy person, not someone who has a lot of time on their hands.

For me a huge part of my healing was merely to change my perspective from fear to challenge. Changing the way I thought about the things that were happening to me, realizing that the universe was challenging me, not punishing me, was a major shift.

Ma'at at AbydosThis led me to unearth a huge part of my character that had been overshadowed by fear, that I actually LIKE to be challenged. The only time I didn’t like to be challenged was when I thought I would fail. But when I began to see ‘failure’ as an opportunity to learn, to do it again in a different, more enlightened way then there was no such thing as failure, everything was a success. Some successes just came more easily than others. And what use to be seen as a ‘failure’ was an approximation. I just didn’t get it quite right, so I was motivated to do it again, better, this time with more experience and more information. The more challenged I was the more I would grow. And let me just say, in retrospect, I had a major growth spurt because I was free.

This simple shift in perspective really works. My mantra, when met with a challenge that I feared I might ‘fail’ at, was ’this is just a new adventure’. Instantaneously my perspective changed. I may have had to repeat my mantra several times during the ‘adventure’ but it worked. Fear and anxiety were replaced by excitement, a sense of adventure.

A very wise women once told me ‘the only difference between anxiety and excitement is breath’. Which is true physiologically, if you slow down your breathing you will feel excitement rather than anxiety. But I might also add that changing your mental perspective can create that shift as well.

So my advice of late, to myself and others, is to find your courage. We are in a time of great change. We need to learn to rise to the occasion. I hear myself saying over and over again ‘embrace the challenge and find your courage’.

A few days ago I came across a video by Kelly McGonigal. She is a health psychologist from Stanford University who has made a career trying to ‘cure’ people from stress only to find that stress can actually be our friend.

Not only did the research she found prove that stress, in some forms, is healthy but it clarified that rather than creating heart attacks stress ‘gives us access to our heart’. It does, in fact, effect our hearts but we get to choose whether that is in a healing or a fatal manner.

Stress causes the body to release oxytocin, the bonding hormone. So stress creates a desire for community, it makes us more caring and what she found was that ‘caring creates resilience’

She also found, as did I, that being challenged creates inner strength. It forces us to rise to the occasion and find our courage. And what she concluded from that was that ‘chasing meaning is better for your health than avoiding discomfort’. Stress can be healing and empowering by forcing us into action which can lead us to a deeper connection with ourselves and others.

“Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.”

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