Stress is Good for you.
Stress is that fight or flight feeling in your stomach when you approach an obstacle. It’s that sudden rush of adrenaline that burns like a painful flow of poison leaking down your chest.
—How the hell is this good for me? It stops you from making life-threatening decisions like jamming your breaks on before you hit another car, throwing your arm out to save your head hitting the ground, and running to your child’s side like a bull seeing red when you hear them scream.
Though physically painful, it is essential in keeping us safe; teaching us what not to do; and fuelling us to pull an all-nighter to finish that Uni assignment due. Without stress, these motivators would not exist.
Without stress we become careless with our actions and lazy with our duties. When we do stress we get shit done, but when we over-stress we complicate and get nothing done except for create new stresses. So stress -like any other factor in our lives- is unhealthy in excess and needs to be balanced.
—How the hell am I supposed to balance stress? To control our stress levels we simply have to choose what we stress about, and commit daily attention to our mental health.
You always have a choice. Though you do not always choose what happens to you, it is always your choice in how you interpret the event, and how you respond. These decisions will come down to your values and perspective. If you are stressing about everything it’s because you don’t know, or haven’t aligned with, your own values, therefore you haven’t grasped perspective of what is and what isn’t worth being stressed over.
Values are the things in life we choose to care about. For example you may value family, fun with friends, honesty, financial security, health, fitness, career enjoyment etc. These are the things you must exclusively choose to stress about. They are all values in which you have ability to control, for instance valuing family means spending time with them; valuing financial security means committing to your job; valuing health means eating good foods and getting enough sleep etc. These are situations in which stress is a healthy motivator in ensuring us to complete the necessary duties to stay true to these values.
Values out of our control will cause excessive and uncontrollable stress. For example if you value being the prettiest girl in your friendship group; making the most money amongst your colleagues; having everybody you meet like you; or having perfectly clean, organised, polite children, the truth is you will always find yourself stressed. You will never control your friends’ beauty; you will never control your colleagues’ work ethics; you will never control how people feel about you; and you will never control your children’s actions – not matter how hard you try.
In biological terms when we stress our bodies release cortisol: a low-grade adrenaline hormone. It controls the fight or flight feeling in our gut, and is also a blood glucose immobilising hormone. Cortisol can be high for numerous reasons such as genetics, body-type and lifestyle habits (eg. malnutrition, external stress, over-training, under-eating, acute stress (ongoing minor problems), lack of sleep, and lack of ‘switching off’ / relaxing. Lifestyle habits are the things within our control, hence why it’s so important you pay attention to your mental health on the daily ensuring you are minimising these stresses.
When cortisol is high we don’t sleep well, skip eating and later ‘pig-out’, then insulin soars and the body responds in fat gain (think about when you feel ‘puffy’ after lack of sleep and high stress). So even though you feel as if you’re barely eating, your waist keeps slowly swelling over your work pants. So what do you do? You eat less, drink more coffee, do more cardio, start smoking etc. anything you can in effort to lose weight and keep surviving. You’re now living off adrenaline and snap or stress over every minor hiccup in your day. Does this sound like you?
To break it down, when cortisol is elevated our blood glucose is also elevated, meaning the:
- blood caramelises (think of an energy high after a really sugary snack/ drink), then;
- insulin must be released to bring the blood glucose levels back down;
- insulin then stores the glucose in the muscle. Once full;
- insulin then stores glucose in the liver. Once full;
- insulin then stores glucose in the fat cell;
- blood glucose levels are then somewhat returned, but now you no longer have energy and feel an ‘energy crash’ or ‘come down’
- So then what? You eat more fast food / drink more coffee / have another cigarette. And you’re back to number 1 not long after.
As you can see, stress has a great impact on your physical health as well as mental health. So it is important to keep stress levels low by letting go of the small, insignificant daily obstacles.
Learn to let go of stresses outside of your control, and care less about things outside of your values.
—How the hell am I supposed to just let go? For you to move forward you must make two lists: one of which indicates all of your current stresses (eg. kids’ clothes all over the floor, washing up not being done, hubby didn’t put bins out, hubby and self left home in an unresolved argument), and a second list of all your values. Based off your list of values you may come to the realisation that majority of your daily stresses are completely insignificant to your values. For instance, those kids’ clothes on the floor and the washing up not been done are obstacles not worth stressing over, and should simply be a problems we choose to solve or not solve. To not stress, does not mean to not care about or take action to, it simply means to take out the painful emotion linked to the problem needing to be solved. Put the clothes away or ask the children to, do the washing up or ask another family member to, that’s it, move on. No emotion necessary. No elevated stress levels.
Pain and suffering is a necessary part of problem solving. You will always have problems, big or small, significant or insignificant. Life is simply an accumulation of problem solving after problem solving. And for this exact reason we must selectively choose problems worth or not worth suffering for. If we value our relationship with our partner, pain is a necessary emotion to help resolve the stress made from leaving for work in an unresolved argument. The pain of stress here is going to be the motivator that gets you really thinking about the language you used and how it may have hurt him, how you plan to discuss the problem and move forward together as a loving couple. Pain here is helpful, and the stress is in your control.
Though easy said, it is not mentally easy to remove stress and emotion from something out of your control, such as losing a loved one. Having someone close to you pass or leave is horrifically painful for anyone. There isn’t always a “what can I learn from this?” light bulb moment, it can be just plain horrific. But it’s also a big part of life, every human being at some point will lose someone or something meaning the world to them. So again, pain and suffering here needs balance. There is time to be spent with tears and mourning your loved one, time to be spent celebrating their presence, and time to be spent moving forward and living your future to the fullest. Taking responsibility of the problems that arise in your life is the first step to moving forward.
Being at fault and taking responsibility are two highly separate things. You can be at fault and not take responsibility, just as you can take responsibility and not be at fault. Losing a loved one, being made redundant or having a car accident may not be your fault at all, but you are responsible for the way in which you chose to respond. This is your power, this is where you take control of the situation.
Do not rob yourself from the power of responsibility by forcing the blame on others. By choosing to take responsibility for all that occurs in your life, you are gaining more power over the things that happen to you. In the event of losing a loved one you are not at fault, but you are responsible for caring and supporting your children, managing the bills/ life insurance and doing your part in keeping the family together. In this instance this is how you would problem solve.
Your stress is in only your control. The bottom line here is that you will always have problems and stresses in your life, but it is within your control what you chose to value, what is worthing suffering for, and whether the problems can or can’t be solved, you keep moving forward. Stress is good for you in the right doses, so channel that energy correctly to get the problems solved.
By now you should have a better understanding of your own values, and a better perspective of the recurring problems that arise in your daily life. You should have a better understanding of obstacles worth stressing over, and obstacles that simply need to be solved. So next time you face a hiccup:
1. Is this really a problem? YES/NO
2. Can I personally solve it? YES/NO
3. Is it worth stressing over? YES/NO
4. What is my plan of action? ______________
I would love to hear from you! Has this column helped you? Do you have any questions? Please do share your comments and concerns…
Credits of inspiration to Wayne Dyer, Hattie Boydle and Mark Manson’s book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F#*k”