Overcome Stress By Looking At What is Right
Stress causes the body to release chemicals that prepare the body to run from, or stay and fight, a physical danger. This ancient response to danger, known as the fight-or-flight or stress response, is often life-saving in the face of real physical danger. However, because our bodies respond the same to both physical and psychological danger, the stress-response can be turned on almost all the time. This ancient short-lived response to external stress, is now also responding to our thoughts and emotions and so creating potentially long-term internal changes in the body.
The stress chemicals prepare you for physical action, which in ancient days was short-lived. You either escaped from the predator or it killed and ate you. The hormone adrenalin prepared you to flee by boosting heart-rate and blood-pressure , while the main stress hormone, cortisol had the functions of sounding a general alarm in your brain, boosting the hormones you needed to fight or flee, while simultaneously maximizing your energy by turning off systems that were not required in the short term. These included the digestive system, reproductive system, immune system, and growth, in order to maximize energy-use in short term stress.
There are no longer sabre-toothed tigers roaming the earth, however, stress caused by psychological factors ( including our thoughts and emotions) can lead to frequent, or constant, suppression of the-above systems leading to diverse conditions such as constipation or diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, infertility, frequent infections, allergies, asthma, immune system disorders (e.g., myesthenia gravis, thyroid disorders, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus…to name just a few). Stress can also cause anxiety, heart disease, depression, weight gain and memory problems.
The stress does not have to be caused by major life events. Just seeing the glass as half-empty rather than half-full can become a habit that sets off the stress response. However, the reverse can also happen, because it is not what happens to us, but the meaning we give to it that determines what our brains see as stressful. So giving a positive meaning to as many situations as you can, by looking at what is right rather than at what is wrong, can help reduce, or even eliminate, a stressful reaction to them. For example, if you crash your car and no-one is hurt or are only slightly hurt, you can make that aspect more important, and therefor focus on it more, than the state your car is in. If you fail an exam, you can see it as a learning opportunity to remind yourself in future to study earlier or differently, or to to learn how to write exams. Of course you will be disappointed if these things happen, but let yourself be upset, then move on to seeing a positive aspect and as far as possible focusing on that.
When someone you love leaves or dies, take time to grieve, but also to remember they joy they brought you. You will likely move back and forth between these states, just don’t get stuck in the grief permanently. Letting go of anything can be difficult, especially when it was something, or someone, you loved and valued highly, but if you can’t find a positive meaning in their loss, then focus on the meaning they,or it, brought into your life while they were there.
In the book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ Jewish psychiatrist Viktor Frankl who spent the war in the German Concentration camps Auschwitz and Dachau, wrote about three types of prisoners in the camps. There were those who who believed they had to be out by a certain date, and who, after a few such dates had come and gone, stayed in bed and died within a few days; and those, like Frankl, who saw that they could somehow put their experience in the camp to use, or believed that they would be reunited with family members, after the war. Of the third group Frankl wrote:
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts, comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedom’s – to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”
I would imagine that this third group of prisoners were less stressed, and happier, either of the other two groups, because they saw a meaning in being in the camps. They looked not at what was wrong with their situation, but at what was right. They may not have lived longer on average than the others, but they spent the time they lived in serving others, and I expect that reduced their stress and fear of what might happen to them.
So can you today, find something to change the meaning in a situation you are are not enjoying, or actively pushing away, by finding something, however small, that is right about it. Focus on that right aspect, and see if your feelings about the situation change. Try and find a few more ‘right’ things about the situation, so you will be able to vary them. Over time, see if you are less stressed, anxious or whatever you were experiencing previously. If it works for this situation, start applying it to others, and notice if your overall stress decreases and if any symptoms you have also decrease.
Leave a comment and let me know how this has worked for you.