Stress can be a source for good!

Ok, so I’ve been completely inspired today after watching an amazing Ted Talk.

First of all, in my meditation sessions, I often talk about how meditation is used for pain management but not to get rid of the pain. So we change our perception of pain and our relationship with it. There’s an awesome BBC video which shows the fMRI scans of before and after 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation practice and it’s effect in relation to pain. It’s well worth watching!

Another point that’s an important teaching of mindfulness meditation is that you can’t get away from stress. You can minimise the unnecessary and self-inflicted stress that’s caused by escalating reactions rather than reasoned responses (you can learn more about this in one of my 8-Week Mindfulness Courses). However, life is filled with stress and stressors and we cannot get away from that fact. We cannot hide away or avoid. We have to become more resilient.

The reason I’ve been inspired to talk more about stress is to highlight the benefits of stress on our body is because there was a time in my life when stress was everywhere. Everything caused me stress and worry. I felt like I had no control over it. At one point, the anxiety had grown so bad I would obsess about a plane crashing into my house at night and I still don’t know where this strange fantasy came from but it kept me awake to the point where I ended up having sleep paralysis at least once a week (if you’ve ever had that you will know how frightening that is). I became sick with stress, eczema flare-ups, migraines several times a week, constantly feeling nauseous. I knew stress was killing me so I listened to a friend who had been on a Mindfulness course and went on one too.

I’ve since learned that stress isn’t always bad. If we continue to believe stress is bad, we will avoid it and then not become resilient to it at all. If we accept that stress is there to teach us how to rise to a challenge then we become resilient and it doesn’t increase our risk of heart disease or other such stress-related ailments or even chronic conditions.

Stress is a burst of energy that lets your body know you need to take action. It revitalises you, energises you and motivates you to reach goals. It’s even known to help boost your memory. It’s also a vital warning system which floods the body with chemicals like adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol which help you in situations where you need to react fast or fight.

“The stress response is a normal adaptive coping response that evolved over hundreds of millions of years to help our ancestors avoid sticks and get carrots,” says Rick Hanson, PhD, a neuropsychologist and author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (New Harbinger, 2009).

In Kelly McGonigal’s Ted Talk, How To Make Stress your Friend she explains how the belief that stress causes damage does considerably more harm than the stress itself could ever do because when we believe stress is harmful and then get stressed, our blood vessels constrict. But when we believe that stress is good for us and then we get stressed, we have all the same symptoms like heart pounding, breathing faster etc except that our blood vessels stay relaxed. This means we become more resilient to stress.

This mindset change is an invaluable tool for us, and as always… knowledge is key. We now know that stress can be good for us and so it will. We can encourage our own resilience even more by practising mindfulness at every opportunity.

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