We like to blame it for cancer and chronic illness. We complain that it tears apart our marriages and our friendships, undermines our productivity, and quite literally keeps us awake at night. We stress about how much stress we are under.
But, when we get clear on all this, we recognize that stress isn’t the culprit, it’s how we manage our stress (or not), that causes the big problems in our lives.
Plenty of research, like the study from researcher Jeremy Jamieson mentioned in Monday’s post, indicates that some, positively managed stress is actually good for us. It motivates us, keeps us moving, growing, learning. It helps us adapt to changing circumstances.
In other words the blend of excitement/anxiety you feel when you start a new job = good thing, or eustress. Remember this from psychology 201? The blend of foreboding, overwhelm, insecurity, anxiety that hijacks every waking thought creating stories of failure, homelessness, destitution when you sit down to pay the bills = bad thing or distress.
The challenge is to manage our stress so that we can have more eustress without the icky, threatening distress.
Here are three ways to do it:
Get clear. So often our stress is sourced from the fictional story we create in our minds about a situation. A cancer diagnosis, when installed in our brains, becomes super stressful because we project all the trouble the might occur in the future. Buying a house, which can be a positive form of stress can rocket out into negative distress if we create a story about how we can’t afford the house, or how the new neighbors are probably trolls who play rock music at 2 a.m. Stop the story. Instead, get clear on what is happening right now and you’ll minimize the stress about what might be.
Eat comfort foods. Note: I did not say eat a gallon of ice cream or a giant bag of M&M’s but if you are stressed and craving something sweet or carb-loaded indulge in a small amount. During stressful times our serotonin levels can drop – that’s the natural chemical our bodies use to create feelings of calm and comfort. So, next time you’re wigging out enjoy a square of chocolate or a couple of crackers and you’ll get some relief. Then, go to the source of the stress and look at how you can minimize it before it ramps up next time around.
Fake smile. Seriously. We all now the power of humor and laughter (watching a funny movie or show is another stress-busting strategy) when it comes to easing stress and actually contributing to our physical health and well-being. But, when you are stressing you are probably not feeling all smiley. Who cares? Fake it. Go to the mirror (I’ve even done this by looking in the rear view mirror at a red light – yes, I’m the silly woman next to you). Stretch your lips across your face wide and hold for about 20 seconds. Can’t muster a faux grin then say “cheese” in an exaggerated way and your cheeks will move on their own. In the 80s psychologist Robert Zajonc published began seriously studying the power of a smile and discovered that when the small facial muscles move into the shape of a smile they also trigger specific brain functions that are associated with happiness. So trigger those smile muscles, you’ll feel a bit happier and that positive emotion will help diffuse the stressful feelings.