Welcome to Part 2 of Killer Stress! If you have not read Part 1 I would encourage you to do that now before you keep reading. It will provide a setting for our topic and an introduction to Kelly McGonigal. If you have already read it then lets dive in!
STRESS KILLS! This is the message we have been fed since the 1970’s. It has been drilled into our brains that stress, as I stated above, is one of the worst enemies out there. It’s this awful, giant black cloud that steals you…. Like The Nothing from The Neverending Story… we can’t see it but it’s the biggest threat to survival. Something we must focus on eliminating from our lives. “WRONG!” says McGonigal. The reason it is wrong is because the way we look at stress has become a bigger problem than the stress was to begin with. The level of fear and the amount of power we have given this invisible antagonist is causing more damage than the stress ever could on it’s own. We have essentially become it’s partner and have helped it steal from us. Like leaving the car doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition and then having a melt down when someone steals it and you have to deal with police and insurance companies and find a new car. Isn’t it possible the car wouldn’t have been stolen had you not made it so possible? Stress is not as intelligent a thief as we think he is. Indeed there are internal stressors that we put on ourselves… usually coming from an expectation we have of ourselves and many times rooted in lies. Those you can definitely stand to face and eliminate…. But the outside stress…. Those we need to push us to do greater and bigger things… those we need to not eliminate or run from… if we do, it is likely we are missing out on so many amazing opportunities.
THE SOLUTION? Change the way you think. Stress is good. It releases hormones and endorphins we need to tackle difficult situations. Kind of like liquid courage… and no I’m not talking about a shot of tequila. Actual courage. Courage to accomplish things we didn’t think we could. Courage to conquer and come out on the other side a changed and better person. It is our friend… our ally. The study McGonigal refers to was conducted by The Department of Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They took a group of people and put them through a series of stressful situations and recorded the effects it had on them physically. The kicker is they studied two groups of people… ones that thought stress to be harmful and ones they had trained to see stress as helpful. Guess who won?? Yep… actual fact… stress can’t hurt you nearly as much if you don’t classify it in your brain as a monster killer. Hmmmm. Sooooo how do I do that? How do I train my brain?
THE PROCESS. Author Debbie Hampton suggests four steps to reframing our thinking. We will call them the four R’s.
1. Relable – Identify the thoughts you have about Stress as a noun and how it makes you feel. The deceptive brain messages.
2. Reframe – Realize those thoughts and labels you have given Stress are simple products of your brain and you don’t have to believe them.
3. Refocus – Clear your mind of the negative perceptions and refocus on what Stress does for you. It’s importance. What it has helped you accomplish.
4. Revalue – This will start to happen without you even knowing it. Those accomplishments are what help form who you are. Your life is more valuable because of them and you couldn’t have accomplished them with out Stress triggering your body into action. Stress isn’t such a bad guy after all.
If those four steps aren’t enough for you or you want to dig in a little deeper I suggest reading "Retrain Your Anxious Brain" by John Tsilimparis. Or "The Upside of Stress" by (my new favorite chick) Kelly McGonigal. You can find both of these in my store.
I sincerely hope this rocks your world as much as it did mine… It just might save our lives! It definitely doesn’t happen over night but the cool thing is our brains are cognitive. The same way science has proven that stressful situations are easier to navigate through the second time around… if you can catch yourself in the midst of the stress and change the way you are processing and viewing it, it will be more effective the next time you catch it and even easier the more you do it. However I’m not discounting the reality and damaging effects of Anxiety Disorder. If you think you may be suffering from it PLEASE don’t be afraid to seek professional help from your doctor or therapist! I wouldn’t be where I am today with out the therapists that have helped me through out my life!