One way is to engage with and manage stress, harnessing it as a tool and actively taking steps to soften our response. The other is to succumb to its intensities. Living in the spouts of fear and self-doubt that can sometimes arise. The good news. We have a choice between the two. As said by Epictetus, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
Our bodies need a stress response, they need to know when we’re in danger, but our bodies also need to be able to tone down this response and ultimately turn it off.
The benefits are hard to dislike, just think of our addiction to a low-key stress inducer called coffee. Stress can improve our performance, enhance our well-being, and motivate us. Past stressful moments can also strengthen us for future moments. Once you are put in a stressful situation, your brain is biologically hardwired to learn how to handle and react if faced with a similar situation ever again. Emergency responders, astronauts, and professional athletes use specific stress training to force learning and growth at a quicker rate in order to prepare themselves to be more in control when facing their daily high-stress situations.
The positive effects of stress, however, are short-term. If we carry stress with us for a longer period of time we begin to blur the line between mind and body. If we aren’t able to shut off our natural fight or flight response we become susceptible to being debilitated by it. Chronic stress has been linked to cancer, disease, mental illnesses, and weight gain. It has numerous effects on behaviour and self-control. If you are pregnant the hormones produced can even have long-term negative effects on your child.
There are numerous ways to stop patterns of chronic stress in your life, but mindfulness is always the first step. When you feel a wave of stress coming on, try to recognise it immediately. Thank your body for trying to protect you. Ride the stress out. Then take control. Do what you can to nip it in the tail the second it is of no use to you. The following are great methods to try:
So there it is. Freedom.
You no longer have to hate stress, you simply have to manage it.