Stress is like an ocean.
Or at least it can feel like one.
It surrounds us and we tread, sometimes head barely above water, in the unforgiving, inescapable fluidity of obligations, deadlines, duties, work, home and kids, not enough sleep, cooking meals, finding time (or not) to be healthy, exercise, life by the clock. We stress.
And the emotion of being caught up in all of it, immersed in this ocean, results in our participating with an entirely inaccurate belief – which is that stress controls us.
When the truth of the matter is, quite powerfully: We. Control. Stress.
In order for us to feel stress, we have to agree to participate to a level where we permit stress to inflict harm.
So what happens when we make this agreement?
Chronic (which means consistent over a long period of time) stress can result in fatigue and low energy, irritability, sleep disturbances, feeling depressed or down, headaches, gastrointestinal upset, muscle tension, systemic imbalances (excema flareups, skin irritations).
The physiological effect on the body from chronic stress may in the long term, if not addressed, give rise to medical conditions including heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety disorders.
So what do we know? Where is our power with stress?
The Power of Perception
Stress is not a disease or a diagnosis in itself. It is generally defined as the perception of a threat to someone’s physical or psychological well-being, with the added perception that the individual’s responses may be inadequate to cope with it. We get stressed by things we perceive as adding pressure as well. Pressure to our schedule, our ability, our limits, even our personal boundaries. Here, it is very important to point out that perception is a powerful thing. It shapes how we see ourselves, the world, our abilities, our strengths, our weaknesses. And yet, every perception we have about any of these things is moveable.
How we perceive the things we define as stressors, is where our power lies.
When you feel immersed in stress, surrounded – ask yourself, Is it worth compromising my health? My body, my life, my psychology to participate in this perception, in this way? And then try something else. Instead of treading with your head barely above water, Swim. Dive deep. Look back up, see reams of light breaking through the surface. Breathe. Swim. And liken each stroke through the silky water, to Freedom. Which is your ability to change your perception of the water (or the storm) itself.
There are many simple, inexpensive strategies, which when employed in a regular, consistent way, significantly moderate the impact of both acute and chronic stressors.
Common healthy calming activities can include physical activity, listening to music, walking with a friend, reading, or practicing a repetitive leisure activity such as gardening, pottery, woodwork etc. More formal types of calming activities that involve inducing a relaxation response, such as meditation, have been studied and often show an accompanying decrease in heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and a metabolic slowing coupled with feelings of peace and relaxation.
When modern stressors are often chronic and psychological, it becomes imperative for us to be empowered by the reality that creates them (feeds them, surrounds them, or deflates them). Engaging practically with this reality: the effects of stress on our mental and physical health – and most powerfully, our ability to impact these effects by changing our minds, our perceptions, and even our actions – we then move from fighting an unforgiving current to participating, owning, shaping a new reality. Flowing with the current, synchronizing our actions to enhance our abilities to cope, rather than believing we are unable to.
We swim. We breathe. And then dip under and emerge with glistening droplets on our skin, smiling into the sunlight managing ourselves, our bodies, our minds – empowered within the current instead of weakened against it.
Then our lives are changed. Resilience is born and fortitude follows.