In my experience and research, I have found that the phenomenon of stress is necessary for our survival. Without stress, humans would not be able to live on the planet. Stress motivates us to act; you would most likely not get out of bed in the morning if you did not have stress nagging at you go to get up. In that respect, stress is a good thing. Stress is also necessary for our survival in that, during life threatening situations, it activates our fight or flight response. Think about the last time you reacted quickly and effectively in traffic to avoid a collision; this is the fight or flight response at full throttle. We were designed and hard wired for this type of stress. However, if left to its own devices, the same stress that can save your life can kill you if you allow stress to enter (and stay) in your life. Everyone has their capacity of stress that they can deal with. Building resilience in the form of effective coping mechanisms can not only allow you to deal with the stresses that you have, but able to take on more stress and make it through what others may consider insurmountable situations. Just like anything else, this just requires the necessary training and application of that training to make a stand against the more chronic stresses. The build up of these chronic stresses in our lives can leave us on the edge of a breakdown at any given time. One seemingly innocuous stress may push us over the edge. We can, however, build resilience by following some simple directions and mitigating the stresses that we can control.
Stress as a Challenge
One of the firs steps in controlling those chronic stresses is changing the way you perceive or look at the stress. Seeing the stress as a challenge or a game is the quickest and easiest way not to let the stress get the better of you. When we see something as a challenge, we activate our competitive instincts and figure a way to vanquish or “win” against the stress. This gives your brain something active to do instead of sitting down and feeling sorry for yourself and giving up. Also, if you do this long enough, you won’t feel stress anymore and actually start to feel excitement instead. You start to feel as though you can conquer anything that gets in your path; this becomes a habit that will surprise you; all you need to do is start practicing, and it doesn’t matter how small the stress is, just practice this new philosophy.
We are all bombarded by things that we need to get done. These tasks can cause a huge amount of stress. Getting (and staying) organized is one of the best ways to be in control of your stress. Remember that stress comes from undecided tasks and not undone tasks. When you place a task into an efficient system that works for you, then even tasks that are not done don’t pose a threat to you because you know, eventually, that you will get them done. Organization also becomes a habit. Once you get organized, you crave that organization. You may have not linked being organized to stress until now. We may not be able to control all of our stresses, but being organized is certainly something that we can control.
We are all physical beings. We were designed to move around, explore and manipulate our environment for survival purposes. Our bodies response to movement, and so does our stress response. When we exercise, we release endorphins in our bodies which simultaneously reduce pain and increase sensations of pleasure. Also, when you are in physical shape, you are able to take on more physical stress and sleep become more effective. Eating the right food, or fueling your body, is an essential part of getting physical. You are less resilient and more prone to diseases if you don’t fuel your body correctly.
Another key ingredient in staving off stress and building resilience is helping other people. However, this should not be at the expense of helping yourself first. Remember when you are on a plane and the flight attendant says to put your oxygen mask on first before helping you child’s mask on? Why do you think they tell you this? Because you cannot help your child if you are passed out on the seat because of low oxygen. Help yourself first and then help others. I think that is where many people get it wrong. When you take care of yourself first with the intention of being there for others, this is not a selfish act. In fact, it is a smart thing to do because you won’t be around to help others if you don’t take care of yourself first. The buzzword in recent years is compassion fatigue, often describing individuals whose job it is to take care of others. I firmly believe that compassion fatigue would be diminished if these individuals had a firm regiment of self care BEFORE they took on the task of helping others. Put on the mask first.
Being grateful is a hidden characteristic of being resilient and reducing your stress. By being grateful, we take attention away from all the negatives in our lives and we focus on the positives. No matter what negative things happen to use, there is always a way to find a positive spin and find gratitude. When we see events from a positive perspective and feel gratitude, we open our minds to the perspective that things are not as bad as they first appear. In many ways, gratitude is the first step in living in the present moment as we take everything around us into our consciousness; this happens specifically when we are engaged in nature. There is nothing more awe striking as watching a sunrise or sunset on the ocean and being grateful for the fact that you have sight. This is just one example of how gratitude can affect our consciousness level happiness and help us focus our minds on what truly matters in life.
How full is your cup of stress. Recognize that if your cup fills up too much with stress, you may be headings for a breakdown in your performance. We all have our breaking points and we may be closer to the edge than we think. Taking a good account of all of your stresses is the first step in taking control of them. Write down all of the things that are stressing you out on the left hand side of a piece of paper. On the right hand side write down what you are going to do about it or what the next step in dealing with this stress will be. Remember that ultimately, you are in control of your own destiny. You are the captain of your own ship and you control the speed, the steering, the engines; everything about the ship is your responsibility. Whether you let yourself fall of the edge, or navigate your way safely around it, is entirely up to you.
“Lean into it!”