Which one sounds like you?
- “I am so stressed out, I need to go for a run.”
- “I am so stressed right now. I can’t even think about going for a run.”
- Both apply to me. It depends on the day and situation.
Stress is energy. Some people are motivated by it and others are hindered by it. Hans Selye, the Canadian Scientist who coined the terms good stress (eustress) and bad stress (distress), emphasized “stress is not what happens to you, but how you react to it.”
According to “The Effects of Stress on Physical Activity and Exercise” author manuscript by Matthew A. Stults-Kolehmainen and Rajita Sinha, “stress impedes individuals’ efforts to be more physically active, just as it negatively influences other health behaviors, such as smoking, alcohol, and drug use.”
On the other hand, the manuscript also indicates that other studies suggest that “some individuals thrive under conditions of stress”, which is consistent with Hans Selye’s theory that stress is how you react to it.
The key is to be aware of how you react to different stressful situations and to honor your body’s needs. “It is how we approach [stress] that can cause us problems, or allow us to grow. The more control we can find within a situation, or over ourselves, the more likely we will grow from the situation,” clinical psychologist Jeffrey DeGroat, PhD explained in the article What Stress Actually Does to You and What You Can Do About It, “The more we are able to identify and act upon the control and choice we have in situations, the less debilitating the stress will be.”
Let’s go back to the quiz I posed at the beginning of this post. Many of you likely responded “C. Both apply to me. It depends on the day and situation.” The next time stress has a hold on you, here are a few ideas to help you return to your authentic self. (Adapted from Mrs. Mindfulness)
- Stop and sit: Once you have become aware of the feeling, stop for a moment. Take a deep breath and then ‘sit with’ the anger, shame, guilt, anxiety, frustration or fear. Don’t inhibit it, suppress it, ignore it or try to conquer it. Just be with it with an attitude of open curiosity and acceptance.
- Identify the emotion: Acknowledge that the emotion is there.
- Accept the emotion: When you experience a negative emotion, you don’t need to deny it. Through your mindful acceptance, you can embrace or hold the feeling in your awareness– this alone can calm and soothe you. Opening to it means to see what is there fully without suppressing, rejecting, ignoring or trying to be ‘stronger’ than the emotion.
- Realize the impermanence of the emotion: Acknowledge that all emotions are impermanent. They arise, stay for a while and then disappear. They come and go in you, like waves in the sea, cresting and receding.
- Investigate and respond: When you are calm enough, you can look into your emotion to understand what has brought it about and what is causing your discomfort. Name it. It may be that particular kinds of thoughts were the cause. You may have been worrying unnecessarily about something or someone and that generated feelings of anxiety. Perhaps you were ruminating on a random comment a colleague said last week and it created anger or embarrassment.