One of the most difficult problems I’ve been unsuccessful in overcoming is the way I handle, or more appropriately, mishandle stress. I know stress is inevitable. Like you, I feel that I’ve lived through more than my share of stressful situations. Everything from dealing with sexual assaults, working for horrendous bosses, making less than I needed to make as I raised my children as a single parent, living with asthma, suffering from a bad back, getting cancer – and more – have been thrown in my path.
Though what I’ve learned about stress is simple – no matter how hard any of us try, we can NOT avoid stress – what I’ve learned just recently is that we CAN learn how to handle it. However, handling stress is NOT something I’ve ever done well. As a matter of fact, I am so bad with stress, I have allowed my belly to grow to mountainous proportions (stress contributes to belly fat, one of the most annoying consequences of my inability to deal with stress).
Funny thing is, I used to think I was handling stress well despite everything that happened to me, because I thought I knew how to deal with it. I had a quick and easy remedy for handling bullies at work – I quit those jobs. Though lack of money plummeted me into pits of depression, I eventually climbed out of those pits by either moving to cheaper and cheaper abodes or taking on more jobs, which inevitably led to more stress.
Fortunately I was blissfuly unaware of how stressed I actually felt, because it showed up in areas that I never attributed to stress. For example, stress caused me to grind my teeth down to the point where my upper and lower jaw no longer met in the back of my mouth. The reason I didn’t know I was grinding my teeth, according to my dentist, was because I was probably grinding them during my sleep.
So one day, several months ago, I admitted that because of my belly fat and my jaw gap, I obviously wasn’t handling stress as well as I thought I was, so I reached out to God to give me an answer to my question, “HOW do I handle stress – in a healthy way?”
A lot us look for guidance from spiritual sources. Whether we reach out to God, the Universe, our Higher Power, our Angels, or whomever we call upon to answer our questions and to relieve us of pain, though our pleas for help and understanding may not come immediately, we eventually discover that, with patience, “Ask and you shall receive” truly works.
What doesn’t work and what isn’t helpful is hearing recommendations like, “Just breathe,” especially when you have asthma. Relax, people tell you. Meditate, some people suggest. Everybody offers a cure for stress. And so you try those techniques and you find your foot wagging in the middle of a meditation session and your heart beating at a rate so high, you fear you might have a heart attack. You can’t relax. You fidget. You have too much to do, and you can feel your energy bursting to get out of you. You want to relax. You really do, but your mind won’t let you.
Or will it? The body and mind are delicately linked and one can control the other, as evidenced in the video I recently discovered and mentioned in the following blog: How to Feel More Powerful. I have often believed that my thoughts affected my body and that what was happening to my body affected my thoughts, so knowledge of the body-mind connection helped me realize that I could also handle my stress – if only I knew how.
Knowing that the body and the mind are interlinked is only part of the solution, though. What I wanted to know was HOW do people handle stress effectively? I wanted step-by-step instructions for dealing with stress. And though I wasn’t given those exact types of instructions, I found out not only how to handle stress, but also how to understand stress and its function in my life!
Ask often enough for help in dealing with anything important to you and something mystical happens. At least it did for me. Tired of watching everybody else seemingly handle stress so much better than I could ever hope to do, because I felt as if I was drowning in oceans of it, I wanted peace! I wanted to master my stress, too. I wanted ANSWERS and so I waited for a sign.
Thank you, God, or synchronicity, or whatever brought into my consciousness a video that helped me understand stress in a completely new way. According to the video, How to make stress your friend, conducted by Kelly McGonigal, stress hormones actually function positively – they are our body’s way of helping us rise to challenges.
The oxytocin stress hormone, for instance, motivates us to become more social. Our hearts have receptors for oxytocin, a natural anti-inflammatory. Oxytocin helps our hearts heal and recover faster from stress. Imagine that! A stress hormone that is actually beneficial!
But what I found amazing, because I’ve long believed that the reason some of us heal faster from physical – and emotional – trauma than do others, is that social contact is not only important, social contact is imperative! Oxytocin necessitates human contact. We are supposed to reach out to others! We need to realize how important loving physical connections are to our well-being. Touch is so important to our survival, in fact, that lack of it causes us to wither.
The article, How Touch Affects Your Children: The Devastating Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect explains the devastating effects of touch depravation on children, but it also applies to adults. Human touch is healing! While watching the video about stress, I learned that Human connection is the link between stress and compassion. Caring creates resilience to stress. How could something seemingly so simple take me so long to learn?
While watching the video I realized that if we look at stress more positively, which we should do because we all experience stress, we can accept stress as being our body’s healthy response to our perceived pressures and worries.
Think about people who experience emotional upsets and who hide away in their bedrooms, silently crying for help from unseen forces. Some of them decide to commit suicide because the stresses in their lives are so horrifying and injurious, they don’t know how to deal with everything life has thrown at them, and they don’t want to bother loved ones with their problems. Or maybe they made a decision they now regret because the consequences are so horrendous, they think they can’t live with the repercussions. If only somebody could help them deal with their problems. But they refuse to reach out, because they don’t want to bother people with their problems.
What a lot of people don’t understand is that people who truly love us will NOT be bothered by our calls for help. (I placed the emphasis on truly because some people who pretend to love us tend to disappear when we need them.) By reaching out to others, by making valuable personal connections with trusted friends and family members, we handle stress more competently by being with the people we love. Talking to them on the phone or connecting with them through Skype or FaceTime is one way of connecting, especially if distance separates us from the people we love, but what we really need is human contact – hugs, holding, and human touch.
Another message Kelly imparted was to go after what creates meaning in our lives and trust that we can handle any stress that results from our decisions. How many of us work in jobs we hate and spend 40 hours a week working in conditions that add mountains of stress to our already stressed lives? Do our contributions matter? More importantly, does what we do matter to us? When it comes to the workplace, we are all replaceable. So feeling that what we do matters is important to our well-being.
Also, stepping out of ourselves and giving to others truly does reap its own rewards, and you don’t need money to give. Want your life to have meaning? Learn how to give. Read What Can I Do For You vs. What Can You Do For Me to find out what I discovered about the meaning of giving.
If you don’t already know what your purpose is, giving might lead you down the path to discovery. Also finding meaning and purpose alleviates some of our negative stressors and though we can’t avoid stress (some stressors, such as having a baby, getting married, or starting a new job, are considered positive stressors), we can learn how to handle stress better. Don’t we owe it to ourselves to understand the role stress plays in our lives?
Are you ready to alleviate your stress by recognizing its function in your life? Are you ready to reach out to the people you love so you can enjoy the benefits of a healthy heart? If so, do yourself a favor and watch this video:
Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend