Most of us think there is only one word for stress, but stress actually exists on a curve. There is "good stress" and "bad stress" and ultimately its impact on our health comes down to the way we think about it.
I never knew there were nuances to stress. I didn’t like talking about it. I tried to avoid it. I always thought of it as a bad thing. Bad for my health. Bad for my mood. Being stressed was not something I wanted to model around my children.
Well, if that sounds familiar, it’s time to rewrite the story around stress.
But first, some vocabulary. You can thank me later when you kill a crossword puzzle.
Eustress: Eustress is often known as “good stress.” This is the type of stress we feel when we’re excited. Like when we are having a great workout or learning a new hobby. The experience is typically short lived and feels manageable. Eustress helps us stay motivated and makes us feel alive.
Distress: Distress, otherwise known as “bad stress.” This is the type of stress that makes us feel overwhelmed because we feel inadequate to meet life's demands. It triggers our body’s stress response and if we don’t find a way to relax, it becomes “chronic” and can create negative physical and/or emotional health effects. From daily traffic jams to the pandemic, I think we’re all familiar with the different forms of distress.
Dr. Sara Gottfried writes all about distress and its negative impact on female hormones and says that many of us are actually hooked on stress.
“We drink coffee to wake up and wine to fall asleep. We work late and glorify “busy-ness” and then wonder why we feel moody, anxious, tired-but-wired, and can’t stop gaining weight.”
Ok so what do we do about it? Last vocab word…and this one is my favorite. How do we achieve equanimity?
Equanimity: Equanimity is described as an evenness of mind that is unruffled by stress. In other words, calm, cool, and collected, inside and out.
^ life goals right there ^
I’m sure you’ve read millions of tips on stress management. From taking supplements, to learning to meditate, to reducing caffeine. Well this Ted Talk by Psychologist Kelly McGonigal literally changed my life and also inspired my business.
In short, McConigal references studies that prove that the way you feel about stress determines how your body and mind react to it.
So let’s think about a stressful situation. I’ll go first. I’m giving a big presentation in front of a ton of people. My heart pounds, I have butterflies, dry mouth, and I might even break a sweat. Typically we believe those physical signs mean we’re not coping well under pressure. We’re not prepared. Nerves take over. We’re done. Put a fork in it.
Well, what if, instead, we told ourselves that it’s just our body feeling energized and that we’re actually excited and ready to meet the challenge? What if we told ourself that those physical signs are actually helping and not hurting us. McConigal references studies that show that if we can maintain this mindset, our body physically relaxes in the face of stress.
In essence, your body believes your mind.
If you think about it, excitement and nerves feel very similar in the body. It all comes down to the story you tell yourself about them.
Sounds easy in theory, but, if you’re like me, it’s hard to remember in the moment of stress. Speaking of “Moment,” that’s exactly why I created a CBD mint called “Moment” that awakens your senses and help get you out of autopilot.
Dr. Joe Dispenza, an international educator and author, says that,
“90% of the thoughts we think today are the same ones we had the day before.”
Basically we think, react, and repeat daily without much conscious thought. Like robots.
So how do we become more conscious?
We get in touch with our senses. You know the ones…touch, taste, smell, sound, sight. Because when you’re in touch with your senses, you’re in the present moment. You’re not ruminating on the past or worried about the future. You’re present. And when you’re present, you’re able to use your beautiful mind to turn distress into eustress.
So in the words of Kelly McConigal, you can “make stress your friend" or as I like to say to myself when times get tough "let's make stress optional." Your life will always be full of stressors, but the challenge is to start thinking about them differently.