We have learned to fear stress. With good reason. It’s a killer, coiled at the root of nearly every diagnosis you can think of. When chronic stress goes unaddressed, it kicks off a complex series of physical, mental, and emotional effects that gradually erodes your immune response, digestion, mood, you name it. (More on the effects of stress on your body.)
But could part of our problem be that we have framed it that way? Could our fear of stress be making everything way worse? As the CEO of meQuilibrium, I know full well that no one source, problem, or issue is to blame when it comes to stress — that our response to stress has far more to do with our ability to cope than almost anything else.
Recently, our editor Terri Trespicio posted about her addiction to stress, and it spurred quite a bit of interest and press. She writes,
I’m one of those people who likes stress. I like it a little too much. I think about downtime, but I rarely engage in it. I love to feel busy and active with lots of plates spinning. Oh, I’ll complain about it, sure. But you try to take my stress away from me, and I’ll fight you for it.
She goes on to say that:
… stress by other names is also: excitement, motivation, energy, pressure. And just the right amount will get you to do amazing things. I wouldn’t accomplish a thing without it.
If our thoughts are the catalyst for emotion, and I know this to be true, then what if we changed the thoughts, not to avoid stress, but to embrace it? If we reframed stress as a good thing, would that make us feel any different?
In her fabulous TED talk (“How to make stress your friend”), psychologist Kelly McGonigal confesses that she’s spent years scaring people about the dangers of stress — which may not be as helpful as she thought.
She cites a statistic from some compelling new research: In one study, participants who experienced a lot of stress the previous year had a 43 percent increased risk of dying… but that was only true for those who believed stress was harmful for their health. In other words, perception of stress as bad had as much to do with their health as the stress itself.
“People who experienced a lot of stress but did not view it as harmful were no more likely to die,” she said. “They had the lowest risk of dying in the study.”
This underscores our approach to stress by beginning with the thoughts. And that means thoughts about stress. You can’t eliminate stress, as McGonigal says, but you can become better at it by retraining the way you think about it.
Imagine what that could mean for you — your energy, your sleep, your relationships with other people, if stress were your fuel, not your enemy.
“When you change your mind about stress,” says McGonigal, “you can change your response to stress.”
Start by reframing these common stress symptoms from negative to positive.
Heart pounding: Rather than reading this as a sign of panic, think of it as your body doing what it must to prepare you for whatever it is in front of you, such as a big presentation to your entire team. Understand that this kind of stress in another context (like an amusement park) would be considered fun or excitement.
The jitters. If you feel on edge and hyper aware, maybe even a little antsy, recognize that your body again has come to your rescue, heightening your senses so that you’re both aware and energized. Take advantage of that energy to accomplish the challenge ahead.
The urge to call your mom. The need to connect during times of stress, McGonigal says, is also natural — and critical to your survival. When stress hits, your body instinctually knows it needs the help of other people, and so the hormones it releases help spur you to do that. So do it — when you feel that need to be around or talk with coworkers, or reach out to someone you trust, don’t read it as “I am incapable,” but “I am doing what I’m wired to do” — and by all means do it!
Jan Bruce is CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, http://www.mequilibrium.com, the new digital coaching system for stress, which helps both individuals and corporations achieve measurable results in stress management and wellness.
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God and I have been on a long journey together with many twists and turns. I believe I have come to a good place, and I hope to keep going because I am enjoying the journey more than ever. And I know I would not be where I am now without all the varied experiences I’ve had.
Even so, I often find myself wishing I could tell my younger self some things about how life really works, about what’s real and true, and thereby dissolve some of the harmful preconceptions and assumptions I had way back then. That is a frustrating impossibility, but it’s worth thinking about.
So what would you tell your younger self? Here, in hopes that it might be helpful to you on your own journey, are 52 things I wish I could tell my younger self:
1. Life is good. Not always, but mostly. And when it is not so good, be assured it will get better.
2. It’s a good thing that we don’t know everything that’s going to happen to us. If I had known all the pains and heartaches I would encounter in life, even amidst the joys and victories, it would surely have been too much to bear.
3. If you tend to be shy, try your best to overcome it. Take it a step at a time, but work at it. It is a gift to get to know new people, especially those who are different from you in some way, culturally, ethnically, religiously. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone may be painful for a time, but the benefits are everlasting.
4. Your hard work in school will be worth it. But come on, don’t kill yourself.
5. It may not be easy to stand up and speak out for what’s important to you, but you will be amazed how empowering, and important, it can be.
6. Keep exercise, eating well, and healthy living in balance. Schedule rest and recreation regularly. The older you get, the more you’ll understand why.
7. Accept yourself as God made you. I spent too many years fighting this battle and it took a long time to surrender, and by that time it carried extremely painful ramifications. How I wish I could tell the young me that it is okay to be true to yourself. Because God does not make mistakes.
8. You are not the only person in the world who feels this way, whatever “this way” is that you’re feeling. See if you can connect with some others so you can support each other.
9. You are terrific just as you are. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on your rough edges and areas of ignorance and inexperience.
10. You are on a journey, which means things will change. Even important things will change, sometimes shockingly. But it is a nevertheless a good journey, and it’s worth every step.
11. There is no one person in the whole world who is the one-and-only person God has selected for you to be with forever. So don’t waste time thinking you have to search for that one ideal person. Open yourself up, be patient, and it will all work out.
12. When you do connect deeply with one person, be serious about it. Work at it. Be open and honest with your significant other. It is a rare and wondrous thing to be in relationship, so make every effort to preserve and improve and deepen it.
13. But sometimes, for any number of reasons, it is time to move on, for your sake or theirs, or both. Recognize this.
14. If you are alone, you won’t always be, unless you don’t make any effort otherwise. Make the effort.
15. Your parents truly love you and want the best for you. Listen to them. Trust them. Love them. Honor them. But realize you will soon be on your own, and that’s a good thing.
16. Stop watching so much TV. Read more. (Although, young me, you did read an awful lot, so maybe you should get outside and play more.)
17. Work hard and carefully to figure out a career you will love. This will involve trying different things, new things. I’ve had four primary and very different jobs in my life, and have enjoyed each one (pretty much). Each one moved me forward into what was next.
18. Try not to be so gullible. Trust, but verify — with independent, objective sources, not mouthpieces for particular viewpoints or axes to grind.
19. Children are a blessing and a joy. Just keep in mind that they will break your heart and scare you to death more times than you could ever imagine.
20. The church (or any religious configuration) is composed of human beings, and so it possesses many human failings, which often reflect your own. Surrender to this.
21. There is nothing more sublime than serving in worship with your brothers and sisters. Unless maybe it’s participating in a service project with your brothers and sisters to help those who are in poverty and need.
22. You will never waste any moment you spend on getting to know Jesus better. You can do that by reading the gospels, by prayerfully reflecting on who he was, what he did, what he calls you to be and do, and by being in community with others on the same quest.
23. Not everything in the Bible is worth studying. In fact, some of it can even be harmful to true faith if taken literally. Read the Bible thoughtfully, open-mindedly, prayerfully, with discernment. Focus on the Psalms and the Gospels and you can’t go wrong.
24. Avoid people with closed minds, who tend to be negative.
25. You will have a tendency toward complacency. Resist this.
26. Be curious. Try new things. Strive for something that stretches you. Of course, there’s a limit to this, so be careful.
27. Travel as much as you can, especially to distant places. This will add incredible dimension to your life.
28. Sing more. And if you’re not that good at it, join a choir or take some lessons. This life needs all the music it can get.
29. Do something artistic. In fact, try lots of different things in different media. There is something primally meaningful and life giving about creating a thing of beauty.
30. Engage in self-reflection, but don’t let it become self-deception. Sometimes you will need to talk things over with a trusted counselor.
31. Don’t ruminate on how others have hurt you. Feel your feelings, but let them slip away. Move on.
32. Forgive. Forgive. And forgive again. You may never forget, but for your own sake, forgive. And try to forget.
33. And don’t forget to forgive yourself.
34. Be grateful. Gratitude leads to more happiness and wellbeing. Even scientists say so.
35. Bless others. Be a positive influence in any way you can. Even simple little helpful acts can make others — and you — much happier.
36. Don’t take yourself so seriously all the time. Laugh. Often. Laugh from your belly whenever possible, letting the tears run down your cheeks. It’s almost as good as sex.
37. By the way, young self, sex is wonderful, but it’s just one rather minor component of a healthy, happy, balanced life. You don’t need to obsess about it so much. And stop worrying, it’s big enough.
38. You can’t pray too much.
39. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes very bad things happen to very good people. We will never fully understand this, but we may catch a glimpse of the why someday.
40. There are some people in your life you will never understand, and maybe not even like. Make the best of it. But if you realize they are harming you, avoid them. Don’t let them suck the air out of your spirit.
41. Nurture an active interest in public affairs and the common good. Work at whatever level you can to make your community and nation a better place. But be careful that you don’t let politics with its vitriolic ineffectiveness sidetrack you from the bigger picture.
42. Write. It will be difficult to find the time and energy at times, but it is a vital creative pursuit.
43. Technology is cool and can help you do fun and interesting things. But keep it in perspective; don’t let it consume you. Life in the real world is far more meaningful and important. And fun.
44. Don’t be afraid to tell someone you love him or her, as long as you really do. And I hope you do.
45. Some people will give you good advice; listen to them. Others don’t know what they’re talking about; learn to distinguish between the two. You will know in your gut when others’ advice is sound. (And I hope mine is.)
46. Freckles are beautiful. I don’t have them, but I love someone who does. Appreciate their uniqueness. Freckles form a map of the stars of the universe on one’s face, and every map is different.
47. You are just one infinitesimal speck of existence in the vast canvas of reality. Realize that. At the same time, God values you infinitely, and so should you.
48. Good things in life take a long time. (That’s from the Chicago song “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long.” But it’s pretty true.)
49. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. (Okay, I stole that one from Julian of Norwich. I hope she is right.)
50. God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. (I borrowed that one, too. But I believe it.)
51. There are a few more things I’d like to say, but I can’t remember them right now. I’ll tell you later.
52. Actually, my younger self, I cannot tell you anything, let alone these 52 things. So try your best to figure this all out on your own as soon as you can. Learn from your mistakes. And live so that someday you won’t have to wish you could tell your younger self anything.
Follow Peter Wallace on Twitter @pwallace