We’ve all heard about the many ways stress can affect us negatively. It can disrupt our sleep, our eating, our mental functioning, our sense of spiritual connectedness, our relationships, and our work performance. It can interfere with the way our body is supposed to function by affecting our blood pressure, our heart functioning, our digestion, our respiration… The list goes on. We’ve come to discuss stress as a negative thing, as it often is when we leave it untended. We don’t frequently talk about the positive aspects of stress. We give little thought to the fact that stress is a natural response to our environment. Depending on a situation, we experience various levels of stress which are intended to initiate an action or behavior to meet a need. It is a natural mechanism developed to get ourselves fed, sheltered, cared for, or out of the way of danger. In this it’s a good thing. It’s helpful. It’s necessary for our survival. We don’t have to despise it. Our problem arises when it grows unchecked.
When considered in this light, we can appreciate stress and the benefits it has on our lives. It not only helps us attend to our basic needs and those of the people we care for, but it also gives us the opportunity to ponder, create, and engage in stress-management activities. The next challenge is for each of us to uncover the most personally effective strategies for reducing the negative impact stress can have on us. Most of us have a few go-to activities for relaxation so my intention is to start a conversation about discovering new ways to replace negative effects of stress with peace and serenity. Try answering the following questions to access your individual wisdom:
- What has been most effective in helping me relax over my lifetime?
- What has been most effective in helping me relax over the past year?
- How might I expand on my “most effective” relaxation activities in a realistic manner? (Consider whether a minor or major tweak is possible or desirable.)
- What stress reduction practices can I do in one minute, one day, one week?
- How often do I need to engage in a relaxing activity?
- When do I feel most at peace? Is there a time of day? A day of the week? A season?
- What do I interpret as a “most stressful” situation? Can I avoid it? Do I want to? Do I handle these situations in a manner I feel good about?
- List the known benefits of your relaxation practice. Focus on those during your practice and during stressful situations.
Use this process to discover what works for you and what doesn’t. Some of us love meditation and some of us love dancing in a crowd. Some of us run a marathon and some of us vacuum. Some of us prefer solitude while some don’t mind company at all. There are many ideas for what should be relaxing. Those are nice suggestions, and are fun to experiment with. But what works for you is what is important.
In the end, stress not only keeps us safe and attuned to our environment, but it also provides us the fantastic opportunity to develop relaxation practices. Yes, it can make us grouchy, and tighten up our shoulders, and completely occupy our minds. And it also prompts us to take a nap, or sit on our deck and marvel at our mountains, or take a yoga class. And I say, “THANK YOU!” to anyone or thing that encourages me to do those things amidst this busy life.