Knowing what stress is and what it isn’t makes it easier to know how to keep stress from being the monster in your closet.
Stress. Even the word makes us tense. Stress is blamed for everything from heart attacks to sleepless nights. Stress is also the reason we have invented everything from the wheel to cellphones in an effort to make life easier. Just like beneficial inventions, we can channel stress into positive energy that will serve us, in the same way exercise and training supports our bodies, minds, and healthy lifestyles.
Training gives us an outlet for suppressed energies created by stress and thus tones the spirit just as exercise conditions the body. ~Arnold Schwarzenegger
What Stress Is
Stress is our fight-or-flight response.
When our ancestors saw a tiger or a bear, they experienced stress. This was their body’s way of getting them ready to handle what was going to happen next. They needed to be ready to run or ready to fight.
For our ancestors, their stress levels went down as soon as the challenge was over.
In the modern world, we don’t encounter tigers or monsters or angry koalas very often. Most of our stress is what I call virtual. Watching the news can stress us out. The stress of traffic, looming deadlines, and living in cities amongst people who are also “stressed out” increase the signals that our brains and our bodies interpret as stress. It is these stimuli that cause our bodies to go into fight or flight mode. Over time, it can wear us down.
The fight-or-flight response is not really as appropriate in most of these situations as it was in ancient times. There are no large-fanged animals waiting to eat us. Unless we’re firefighters or cops, most of the time, we’re not living in code red. Our lives are not really in danger. Breathe!
What Stress Is Not
There isn’t really a good definition for what stress is not because it varies from person to person. The word stress is overused to apply for anything that motivates us to take a certain course of action. Let’s put things into perspective.
Annoying phone calls from creditors. Something about hearing the phone ring and just imagining it being the credit card people makes us shrink and feel like we’ve traveled back in time, seated in that giant uncomfortable chair opposite the school principal (who, then, seemed like a monster since first: we never expected growing up and second: we never thought our peers might become school principals!) awaiting punishment for being tardy to class from recess. Getting on the phone with them will make you think that you are about to be eaten by a T. Rex. Really, if we put it in perspective, it’s just a phone call, and by answering the call and talking to the person on the other end of the line, we can work together with them to resolve the situation!
Arriving at work on Monday. Monday’s can be stressful but they still aren’t bears chewing on your arm. Take a breath and put everything into perspective for a minute. You’ve got a new week to get stuff done and to be the best you can be.
Driving in your car
A ride in your car should be simply something you do to get you to your destination. It shouldn’t be stressful. Slow down, put on some cool music, and enjoy the ride.
When we recognize stressful feelings we can learn to entertain healthier ways to use that energy to our advantage.
How to Deal with Stress
Exercise is a great way to deal with stress.
Exercise is really important to me; it's therapeutic. So if I'm ever feeling tense or stressed or like I'm about to have a meltdown, I'll put on my iPod and head to the gym or out on a bike ride along Lake Michigan with the girls. ~Michelle Obama
The best way to deal with “stress” and the feelings that we have is to consciously relax. We need to learn to relax our bodies, our minds, and our souls. It can be learned, but we have to want to learn.
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