Get Out of Stressed Out
From working to keep a business afloat during a pandemic to deciding what to prepare for dinner, stress is part of everyday life. It's the internal tension that keeps us alert, engaged, and energized.
Stress is helpful when it's manageable and transient. It's even got a catchy name: Eustress, which is defined as moderate or normal psychological stress that's interpreted as beneficial for the experiencer.
Without at least some stress, we're untuned to the signals of life that we must attend to.
Bills don't get paid, and children don't eat dinner unless a low level of stress activates our minds and bodies.
But when stress rises to the point of freezing us into place and impeding us from doing what's needed, it becomes distress. Our body reacts by flooding us with (dis)stress hormones designed to create a moment of precise attention on how to avoid perceived danger.
Our vision narrows, creativity stalls, and our blood flow slows from restricted circulation. We're in fight or flight mode.
While it might save us from an imminent attack, if it lasts too long, it breaks us down in ways we often don't recognize in time to avoid lasting harm.
It's essential to recognize which realm of stress you are in and if it's acute (today or short term) or chronic (months and years with no end in sight). Each type requires different approaches to destress and move from distress to eustress. (Read that sentence again.)
Chronic stress can be alleviated to varying degrees by adopting the lifestyle habits we know can help lower tension levels in general. Exercise, regular good eating habits, being with a community of positive people, having enjoyable hobbies, and learning to practice mindfulness work together to smooth life's inevitable daily stressors.
To manage acute distress, learn to identify the source of your tension by being an impartial observer of your body and your mind. In Robert Heinlein's book Stranger in a Strange Land, the character Anne is a Fair Witness. She reports facts precisely as she sees them. When asked about a house's color, Anne looked, then answered, "It's white on this side." She made no assumptions about the sides she couldn't see, nor did she judge whether white is a positive color or not.
Practice being a Fair Witness to your self.
Notice the thoughts that are swirling in your mind. Are you fixated on seemingly unsolvable problems, or are heightened emotions crowding out your logical mind?
Learn the clues distress creates as it overtakes your body. Pay attention to your posture and breathing. It's hard to breathe easily when your shoulders are pulled up tightly toward your ears. Drop your shoulders, relax your muscles, and inhale deeply by extending your belly. Go ahead. Try it. No one is looking.
Describe your concerns and the emotions you feel around them. Talk about what has overtaken your calm mind with a trusted friend or a coach. Coaches are trained to impartially guide you in identifying acute stressors that, once named, can be addressed individually with changes or solutions. Sharing a problem can give you new insights toward solving the issue and reducing your stress to manageable—and helpful eustress.
While you can certainly improve your self-witnessing abilities on your own, learning mindfulness by using apps, books, YouTube videos, and personal guidance from therapists like Nancy Logue can save a lot of time.
Appreciate the different degrees of stress. They're all normal and beneficial. View it accurately as a tool that can keep us from danger, strengthen focus, and help us identify problems that are waiting to be solved.
What do you do to notice and reduce stress? If you're having trouble, let's talk.
My wish for you is just enough stress to pay your bills and prepare an enjoyable dinner!