Can stress be our friend?
There have been many pressures over the past year that mean your base level stress and anxiety may be higher than they were before. A clever friend of mine said, ‘I can not thrive in this, but I can survive this’. I’ve been thinking about stress and how we can turn our stress into a more positive or perhaps neutral force in our lives.
So how do we turn our stress into something positive? Or at least not an overly negative experience. The first step is be aware of what you are feeling and allow yourself to feel it. Allowing stress too ‘be’ is what creates a different response to it in the brain. The brain is cool, and as we learn to acknowledge our feelings it creates new pathways for these feelings to be processed, meaning we are able to think and see things from new perspectives.
Therefore if we allow the stress to ‘be,’ then our brain will be able to begin to build resilience to whatever we are stressed about. This is something anyone can cultivate and you can read more about building resilience in my blog here. As we start to build and develop our resilience we get better at facing new challenges and understanding our own markers for stressful thinking. This in turn allows you to intervene earlier when stressful thinking sets in.
Our normal default when it comes to stressful thinking is to see it negatively and often we don’t act in ways that help our mind process the stress. For example, drinking due to feeling stressed is often a destructive and counterproductive measure. We might procrastinate to avoid doing something stressful, or do nothing but think about the thing that stresses us, which leads to ‘worst-case scenario’ thinking. The goal of avoiding the stress actually leads to a more stressful outcome.
How can we see stress as something more positive? Firstly think about the physical reactions you can experience towards stress. They tend to be in the ‘fight or flight’ family; an elevated heart rate, an alertness or increased energy. Start harnessing that power for good. Your body is physically responding to give you the energy you need to get through whatever it is you need to do. So use it.
Instead of saying ‘I can’t deal with this’, start saying, ’I CAN’. The way we talk has a huge impact on the conversations we have with ourselves. If you are interested I’ve written more about negative self-talk here.
It can also be helpful to understand that we all experience stress in our lives. You aren’t alone with your stress. Everyone feels it from time to time, and expresses it in a way unique to them. It’s not a comment on your ability to cope, more an understanding that we’ve all been there.
Choosing to see the upside of stress isn’t necessarily about denying that stress can be traumatic or that stress can be harmful. Instead it is about finding more balance in your mindset in order to feel more capable of managing whatever comes your way. Embracing stress requires an appreciation that even though this horrible situation is in front of you now, on the other side of it will be growth. It requires you to give yourself a break and offer yourself compassion.
It’s important to be aware that stress can often be worse when the situation you find yourself in is outside your control. Therefore finding some way in which you feel you have control, however small can be an important first step.
Stress is not fun, but it is something that can be worked on. Something you can gain insight on and develop an understanding on why it affects you the way it does, and something you can work to change.
Whatever you are going through you aren’t alone.