Stress, I love you!

I really thought we were over. But now I would like us to be friends instead. I hope we can work it out.
In gratitude,

There is no such thing as good and bad stress. Stress is stress. Stress manifests in different ways in the body, it takes different shapes and personalities, but it’s still plain stress. The human stress reaction is necessary and practical. It’s what allowed us to fend off predators or run as fast as we could to save our lives. It helps us ace interviews or exams with sharp clear thinking.

Unfortunately, our relationship to stress has gone wry because we experience too much of it. Over and over, we neglect the fact that our bodies and minds need to rest after a stress reaction. Stress is so pervasive that we don’t even recognize it as such until it’s too late. In fact, it is so much so that even our ‘resting’ activities are stressful. Television is number one in line standing accused. We slouch in front of the screen and we let it bombard us with sensational, negative and aggressive talk. That’s not resting. That’s nervous system boulimia. And let’s not even mention having coffee as a break from work…

As Kelly McGonigal explains in her latest TEDtalk, stress is healthy… if you believe it is. Stress is not in your head, but rather everywhere in your body. Once you start exploring your stress reactions in your body and you recognize that they are real, you will naturally feel the need to rest the body and mind after a stressful event or day. Activities that make you feel like yourself are a good place to start.

When it comes to resting from stress, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Some of us need strong physical movement, others will prefer restorative yoga or meditation. When you ask around about activities to relax from stress, you’ll hear about going out for a walk, having sex, reading, gardening, sailing, wood carving. I’m not sure what all these have in common, but my guess is this.
• First, none of these activities are passive. Contrary to what we might think, resting the body and mind is not synonym to slouching. It is an active form of letting go.
• Second, the activity must be enjoyable for the person doing it, which is why what works for you might not work for others.
• Third, all these activities are free of competitive drive, unless it’s completely friendly competition of course. When you start introducing a goal or a benchmark in the activity, you start adding stress.
• Fourth, all activities are practiced with balance. Too little is just as bad as too much. Again, we are all different. For me, an uphill hike longer than one hour puts stress on my body and mind, but my sister-in-law can keep going for 3-4 hours. (And I’m not saying it’s bad to put stress on the body with such activities, I’m rather saying that it’s no longer a stress-resting activity at that point.)

The final thought of this long comment is that stress is what you make of it. If you think it’s bad for you, it will be bad. If you think it’s good for you, it will be good. Don’t let it rule your life. Be proactive and get some restful activity going.

Kelly McGonigal strikes again with this amazing demystifying TEDtalk on stress. She explains it all, concisely. Enjoy!