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We all experience stress at times, but what actually is it?
Stress is the mind being in an uncomfortable, out of control situation. It causes us to feel uptight, tense, or worried. It is feeling overwhelmed. It is feeling anxious or concerned, or apprehensive. However, there can be a positive side to these thoughts and feelings. They can be useful to encourage us to finish a job or perform well.
A ‘stressful’ event causes the hormones adrenaline and cortisol to be activated by the nervous system. This is often called the ‘fight or flight’ response. These hormones affect our metabolic rate. Therefore, our pupils dilate, we breathe faster, our heart races, our blood pressure goes up, our muscles flex and we begin to perspire. This is simply the body’s response to a challenge where we feel out of control. It is a great response if we need to fight a fire or run from harm. Stress happens every day in the jungle with the zebra and the lion. If the zebra doesn’t run fast enough, he will be the lion’s dinner. If he outruns the lion, the lion remains hungry and stressed because he wasn’t fast enough to get dinner. Both have stress.
Although short bursts of “stress” are not harmful to us physically, long-term stress can lead to a buildup of hormones and can have a very damaging effect on our lives. Physical changes are indispensable in supporting our body to handle the challenges of a truly stressful event. However, if we attempt to live with these hormones consistently in our bloodstream, our health can suffer and psychological changes can result. The list of symptoms is huge and can be very damaging to our well-being.
Psychologists traditionally have agreed the three basic emotions are love, anger, and fear. Anger and fear are the negative emotions that trigger our fight-or-flight reaction. Anger makes us want to fight and fear makes us want to run. When we experience either of these reactions, we are out of control and this causes stress. Love is the emotion of self-control because when we respond in love we are able to respond by acting, not reacting.
So, what causes this “stress?” The most common causes of stress involve work, money, and relationships. Major life events such as divorce, the death of a loved one, unemployment, or moving are major sources of stress. However, for some people, minor irritations such as traffic jams, children arguing, being late for a meeting, or even just a bad hair day also can be stressful. It is the buildup of these minor irritations that can cause the explosion.
But notice that the stress began from your ‘self-talk.’ Stress comes from the way we interpret an event — what we say to ourselves about the event. When something happens, our thoughts can be negative or positive — reactionary or responsive. If we think negatively, we become stressed. We can react with thoughts that just add to our already stressful situation by thinking unsupportive self-talk, such as, “Here we go again, I am behind such a jerk — how did they pass a driving test?” Or, “This always happens to me. I never have any good luck.” Or, “I can’t cope. What makes me think I ever could be good enough?” Or, “I’m so tired. It’s just not fair. Why do I have to do it all?” Or, “Why do things like this always happen to me?”
We become overwhelmed by these thoughts. These thoughts lead to feelings and spill over into our emotions. As we translate these thoughts into feelings, we express these feelings to describe things such as worry, guilt, anxiety, sadness, depression, happiness, joy, hostility and so forth. When these thoughts and feelings get mixed up, we feel overwhelmed and out of control. Now, these feelings can spill out onto those around us and we draw those people into our drama.
We may feel totally justified in thinking these thoughts, based on our history of failures or disappointments. These may be rather honest descriptions of what’s going on, but rehearsing them negatively can make the situation even worse. It is like putting water on an electrical fire. Not useful! We kill our own self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence, as well as our ability to live life to the fullest. We become aggressive or introverted. Fight-or-flight.
Stress can cause us to exaggerate things to mammoth proportions, making them seem worse than they are. Stress makes us scowl instead of a smile, makes us lethargic instead of energetic, makes us sad instead of happy. This kind of stress can lead to depression. So, keep things in perspective. Don’t create more complications by viewing things and yourself as hopeless.
Instead of reacting to a situation, a balanced response may be more beneficial. Start by saying something gentle, reassuring yourself that you have what it takes to remedy the situation. Say things to yourself to reduce your stress. Respond with more supportive self-talk, such as “Breathe deep, stay calm.” Or, ‘I’m handing this well in spite of the situation.” You could say something supportive, such as, “Wow, this event is going to give me an opportunity to try a new method of problem-solving!” Use self-talk, such as, “This too shall pass.” Or, “This will be a great learning experience.” Or, “When it is all said and done, this situation is really quite small in the bigger picture.”
With this change of attitude comes new perceptions and understanding with which we can develop an attitude of gratitude. Instead of saying, “I’ve got to go to work,” we could say, “I get to go to work.” Being grateful we get to do something brings happiness instead of a feeling of drudgery. Letting go of “should” and saying “I could” releases that out-of-control feeling. I am choosing to do this instead of “I should” or “I must.”
Appreciation of our blessings gives us a whole new perspective, and with that comes a higher level of living. Our bones don’t ache as badly, work doesn’t seem so challenging, we are grateful for the laughter of children, and we even are grateful for the unmade bed. We remember that some people didn’t have a bed to sleep in. We can look at the pile of dishes and, instead of grumbling, we can say “Based upon that stack of evidence, we have had plenty to eat. We truly are blessed. Some people didn’t have a meal today.” We can look at the lawn that needs to be mowed and be grateful that we have two legs to push the mower and that we have a lawn to mow. We can look at the garage that needs to be cleaned out and be grateful that we have so much excess stuff. Such a change of thinking changes our whole demeanor. We attract beautiful, positive people, instead of the naysayers who remind us the world is out of control. Birds of a feather flock together.
The feel-good hormone dopamine is released when you respond to situations rather than reacting to them. Responding gives you the ability to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Responding will keep you healthy, make you wise, and even make you wealthy and, more importantly, a person others will love to have around. Stress becomes a thing of the past. You can look at things and ask, “Can I do anything about this situation or not?” If the answer is yes, then get on with it, and if the answer is no, then release the situation to those who can.
“Even the smallest shift in perspective can bring about the greatest healing.” ~ Joshua Kai
You will look younger, feel younger and live longer — stress-free. Oh yes, and you will become a person of character who can handle your millions without stress. Oh! What a feeling!
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