By Jessica Allen
Most of us would label stress as a negative and unwanted experience. We’ve all experienced the dark side of stress; the turning tummy, shortness of breath, shaking hands and sweats, racing thoughts and catastrophising. It's unpleasant to say the least! However, you might be surprised to learn that stress doesn’t always have to be a bad thing and can actually benefit us.
The Buddha famously stated “All that we are is a result of what we have thought. What we think we become”. What The Buddha is suggesting here is that the way we interpret our experience will have a huge impact on the way we feel and act which can influence what happens to us. For example; if I am nervous about meeting new people I might be thinking “I cant do this, I am going to embarrass myself, no one will want to be friends with me again…(and so on)”. If I then meet a new person and I’m thinking this I might act uncomfortable, avert my eye-contact, and keep my interaction short with them. This sends the message to this new person that I am not interested in them, and potentially rude, therefore they avoid me. This then reinforces that I am unlikable and I can’t make friends. If however I had had these thoughts and instead sat with them, accepted that I was nervous but that this is a normal feeling when meeting new people I might have acted different and had a different outcome.
Research studies show that your view of stress impacts your health far more than the stress itself. Short-term stress has the following potential benefits: boosts your immune system, makes you more social, improves learning and may improve memory. It's important to note here however that we are focussing onshort-term stress. Short-term stress usually comes from things like work deadlines, an argument with a loved one, a traffic jam, whereaschronic stress refers to long-term stress such as ongoing relationship difficulties, sickness, a toxic workplace etc. Any short-term stress can become long-term stress if not managed. When short-term stress becomes chronic it is no longer helpful and can be really damaging on your health.
So how can you change your relationship with stress and reduce the negative impact it can have? Believe it or not, tuning into your stress is the best, most evidence backed way to reduce its impacts on you and make it work in your favour. Tuning into our bodies can be uncomfortable, however it's integral to changing our perspective on stress. Think about it like a fire hydrant, you have to face the fire head on to extinguish it. You can try the following steps to tune into your body and mind.
- You can begin this practice by taking a stance of curiosity. You don’t have to fix things, change anything, or be anything other than what you are. You are going into this practice as a curious observer of your experience. There is no right or wrong, just trust and patience.
- Sit and get comfortable. Take 3 deep breathes into your belly and out again. Let yourself slow down. Feel the rhythm of your breath as it enters and leaves your body.
- When you are ready, begin to notice any sensations you have in your body. Any tingling, tightness, pain, or softness. Whatever you notice, just allow it to be there without having to do anything about it. Remember you are just being curious. If anything feels too strong take a deep breath and wiggle your fingers and toes.
- Now tune into your thoughts. Your thoughts are like a super-highway of traffic coming and going. Loud horns, and exhaust everywhere. This is ok, it's normal. Just apply your curiosity to your thoughts. Notice what comes up for you, let the thoughts come and go. Again, no need to fix or change anything. See if you can observe your thoughts like cars on a highway coming and going. If you find you’re getting stuck on any thoughts just go back to your breath. It's ok if you have to do this a few times.
- Take one more deep breath, notice your surroundings, have a stretch. Take a moment to reflect on how you feel. Congratulate yourself for taking the first step to rebooting your relationship with stress!
*It is important to seek support if you are struggling from ongoing stress that’s causing you significant psychological distress. You can reach out for help by getting in touch with your GP or the following services in Australia:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Sane referral hub:https://www.sane.org/referral
About Jessica Allen
Jessica is a clinical psychologist located in Melbourne and she's one of our talented 8-Week Program experts. She specialises in young people and parents going through the perinatal stage, while also helping patients manage depression, anxiety, personality disorders, relationship difficulties, eating disorders and trauma. With experience across clinical and educational settings, Jessica is now working with Orygen Digital in digital mental health program planning and implementation.
Jessica believes in a holistic approach to mental health that takes diet and lifestyle into account. She understands the monumental impact sugar can have on us and is dedicated to helping people improve their quality of life – starting with what we put on our plates.