How Can We Deal with Stress?
Stress is a small word but it means so much to us in our fast paced hectic lives. But what is it? Is it a mental phenomenon only or is it physical one too? In this blog I will attempt to unravel stress which happens to every person everywhere.
In Chiropractic we talk often about the three T’s: Trauma, Toxins and Thoughts as stressors which affect how our body expresses itself in health and in life. We can easily understand that Trauma or Physical stress can affect our body. We can also comfortably understand that Toxins or Chemical stress can affect our body, either through our diet or exposure to various chemicals we encounter through life. What about thoughts? Mental stress and the perception of our past/present and future realities can often affect our lives in the largest of ways.
Stress in mainstream media is almost always an expression of mental/emotional stress, and it’s fair to say the connotation with the word stress is always negative. The first thing we need to understand is that Stress is NECESSARY for life to happen- it isn’t good or bad- it’s neither and both at the same time.
We need stress, it drives us to get up out of bed and go about our day. We need goals, passion and love to complete tasks- these are the emotions and perceptions we create in order to guide us and help make some of the decisions that are required for life. So what then if we feel overwhelmed? What if we feel out of control, out of touch and “stressed” in the negative sense of the word?
Mental and emotional stress is almost always a filter through which we see the world- filters come from everywhere- often though our upbringing- “gifted” from our parents for us to see the world as they see it. Our perception signals a cascade of neurotransmitters which alter sympathetic output and a cortisol driven “fight or flight response”. Intense cortisol and adrenaline driven physiologic responses are great if we have an emergency where we needed to escape or fight for our lives- but the repetition of this over and over, driven internally by our perceptions or filters causes adverse physical and emotional burnout- that overwhelming sense we face at times when we crack under pressure, we then release this stored pressure on others or ourselves.
So managing stress- what do I do? Well are you managing stress or managing the effects of stress?
The effects of stress are pretty well known- these are in essence symptoms of a system overloaded with cortisol and ready to bust- the American institute of stress lists 50 signs and symptoms of stress here.
Is managing the symptoms a solution? Like noticing the check engine light on your car dashboard and then ignoring it by covering the light up with some tape. Fighting the effects stress is a short term therapeutic answer and solutions are given freely from multiple outlets-eat well, exercise, meditate, of course these are fantastic stress busters and reduce our stress- (essentially healthy living reduces the effect of stress.) What about the cause itself?
Enter Mindfulness and perception.
Paying attention to the filters we use- knowing that an event and the subsequent feelings we experience are entirely our choice is at first a difficult concept. How am I just supposed to feel good about the bad experience I had? How do I just choose to feel positive about the looming deadline approaching?
So often we end up reacting to stress rather than entertaining something different- reactions happen quickly, emotions fly through us before we can even check whether we want to feel this way. Have you ever heard your parent’s voice say things to your children from your mouth in the heat of an argument- I certainly have!
Choosing how you feel is a skill that can be learned- and like a skill it can only gets better with practice. Mindfulness means paying attention; being entirely present with curiosity and kindness. Looking to why this has happened? Why do I feel like this? Why has that person reacted like that?
Shifting the focus away from personal emotive responses and into a more pragmatic and almost omniscient view gives the mindful person a sense of peace and ability to navigate challenges and situations with some strategy, ease and grace. The mental health foundation of New Zealand explains mindfulness beautifully here.
Mindfulness is a great way to connect to people and connect with your true self- not the filter you inherited from your upbringing. Give it some time and work on it.