New research is changing the way we view stress and our relationship to it. For some time, there seemed to be a cultural acceptance that all stress was bad and needed to be avoided. New findings suggest otherwise.
So, is all stress bad?
The answer is no, not all stress is bad. In fact, it’s a natural part of life. It is unavoidable and inevitable. Stress can take the form of loss of a loved one, loss of a job, an unhappy relationship, an illness, or a demanding career.
Even so-called happy events can be a major source of stress. Getting married, receiving a job promotion, moving to a new place, or having a baby can all cause major stress. Often, people feel guilty when they find themselves stressed and unhappy in the face of something good.
Sometimes, we even need a little bit of stress to help us get motivated. This is called “healthy stress.” It’s what gives us the get-up-and-go in the morning and keeps us going throughout the day.
Depression is a condition of having an under-activated stress response. The nervous system is simply not online or engaged. Therefore, people with depression find it hard to get out of bed or be active in daily life. It does not mean they don’t have stress. In fact, usually the opposite is true. The nervous system may have shut down due to seemingly insurmountable levels of stress.
The key is to find balance and get the nervous system and stress response to function in a healthy manner.
How did it get so out of balance?
A programmed stress response helped keep our ancestors alive; they were able to mobilize in the face of attack from a large predator. It also drove them to compete for food and resources that ensured the survival of the species.
However, our modern day stress is less about actual life or death. It’s about caring for sick family members, keeping up with finances, and dealing with traffic and deadlines. Our current stress response system hasn’t evolved to help us keep up with these never-ending demands of daily life.
Your brain may be signaling that these situations are a threat to your survival and readying you for extreme action that is not appropriate (or helpful) for the circumstances.
The truth is, it’s less about the presence of stress in our lives, and more about our relationship to it.
Our relationship and to stress determines the physical and emotional response we will have to it.
Luckily, the latest research in neuroscience gives us evidence-based techniques for calming down the brain’s automatic stress reaction.
You can learn to respond to stress effectively so that life stressors become more manageable and less overwhelming. Mindfulness offers practical ways to begin to change your brain and your relationship to stress.
Changing your relationship to stress requires:
- Staying grounded in the present moment
- Acknowledging and accepting your emotions
- Cultivating self-compassion
- Developing psychological flexibility
- Focusing on the positive
Even with mindfulness, lasting change does not happen overnight. In order to truly shift your stress response, you must take small, incremental steps toward becoming more resilient.
If you are interested in learning about one-on-one work for stress management, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Contact me anytime.