RE-THINKING STRESS… THE POWER OF POSITIVE PERCEPTIONS
DO YOU HAVE STRESS?
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR STRESS IS IMPACTING YOU NEGATIVELY… INTERFERING WITH YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE?
WHAT IF I TOLD YOU THAT IT IS NOT THE STRESS THAT IS INTERFERING WITH YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE, BUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH… YOUR PERCEPTION OF… HOW YOU THINK ABOUT AND INTERPRET THAT STRESS THAT IS MAKING YOU SUFFER?
If you have a lot of stress and want to manage it, change your way of thinking about it.
Perceiving your stress as positive, as a natural mechanism for your body to become energized and meet the challenges of the day, actually brings courage and joy and does not lead to any higher a rate of disability and/or death than for folks who do not have excessive levels of stress!!!
Study- 30,000 adults followed over 8 years.
43% died from stress.
But, it was only true for those who PERCEIVED stress as harmful.
It is your BELIEF about stress that is the leading cause of disability and death. (Keller, et al, 2012)
Change your Mind, Change your Body.
THE STRESS RESPONSE
When your body faces a stressor, your heart rate goes up, you breathe harder, you have an increase in blood flow, you become sweaty, and, if you perceive this response/stressor negatively, your blood vessels constrict, which is why stress has been associated with high rates of death from heart disease.
The new science is showing us, though, that for those who thrive on stress… be-friend it, perceive it positively, blood vessels do not constrict, but remain open as if you were not experiencing any harmful effects from stress at all.
Perceptions are everything. And when you embrace your stress positively, your body actually responds as if you were experiencing joy and courage. Your body believes your mind.
One stress hormone, Oxytocin… the cuddle hormone (also an anti-inflammatory), is a neurohormone that acts on heart cells to counter the damage that excessive circulation of the other stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine) cause. So, built into the stress response is this regenerative hormone that not only strengthens the heart, but also provides a mechanism that creates a strong desire to seek out social situations… a mechanism for bringing resilience and strong impetus for socializing.
This is significant because we have learned that time spent socializing… being in community, is protective of high levels of stress. Additionally, helping, caring for, being nice to others (and to yourself), volunteering at something you enjoy, being grateful for things in your life are all effective ways to train your brain to be resilient in crisis, bounce back, handle pressure, and generally better withstand hard times.
Perceiving stress as healthful, trusting that you can handle life’s challenges, chasing the meaning (find what is meaningful to you and do that) instead of avoiding discomfort = creation of the biology of courage, worth, connection, resilience, and joy!!!
PRACTICE LOVING-KINDNESS MEDITATION
*Sit or lay down and close your eyes feeling the earth beneath you and supporting you fully and completely.
*Bring Your focused attention to your breath and notice it coming in and going out. Let your breath bring you a sense of being open and spacious. As you breathe in, let your breath permeate your heart and mind and as you exhale let the breath take any negativity and toxins away from those places.
*Stay with this for a few moments.
*Now visualize yourself in your minds eye in a beautiful place that brings you feelings of serenity and calm. See yourself peaceful, well and happy.
*Stay with this for a few moments.
*Inhale and internally repeat, “May I be loving”, exhale and internally repeat, “May I be kind”.
*Stay with this for a few moments.
*Inhale and internally repeat, “May I be positive”, exhale and internally repeat, “May I be joyful”.
*Stay with this for a few moments.
*Now let this go and just be, right here, right now and feel what you feel.
HOW TO CHANGE UP PERCEPTIONS
*How is stress affecting you?
*Have you become anxious and easily depressed?
*Have you become indecisive and generally apathetic?
*Have you become irritable and easily angered?
*Have your memory and concentration deteriorated?
*Have you experienced an increase in headaches and digestive problems?
*Has your blood pressure become elevated?
*Has your sleep pattern changed?
*Have your eating habits changed?
*Have you increased your use of alcohol and/or other drugs?
*Have you developed any nervous habits or phobias?
If you answered yes to one or more, you need to reassess the way you THINK… PERCEIVE the stressors in your life.
1. List the 3 top stressors in your life.
2. List how you think about… perceive those stressors.
3. For those stressors that you do not perceive as positive, is there a way you can re-perceive them in a more positive light?
A = Accept the stressor… how?
C = Change the stressor… how?
E = Eliminate the stressor… how?
*Night Time Journal-
List the stressor that was most prevalent for you during the day. What was your relationship to the stressor… did you perceive it as positive or negative? Why? If negative, can you find anything positive about it? How did you cope with it at the time? How could you change that next time if need be?
Now, list the things that you are grateful for today and take some time to truly experience feelings of gratitude.
As you continue this activity, you will find that you start to become more aware of your stressors and how you relate to them. You will begin choosing more positive responses.
And, you will also start to look for things to be grateful for during the day. Gratitude has also been shown to decrease levels of perceived stress.
*Practice Mindfulness Meditation-
Sit on the floor or in a chair few moments up to 20 minutes everyday and focus on your breath. You can count the lines on your fingers as a way to tactically stay connected and focused. Start by placing your thumb on the bottom line of your little finger and as you breath in repeat internally, Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out. Now move your thumb up to the next line. Continue along each line on all four fingers moving up and over to next finger, then down and over, up and over and down and over. Don’t worry if other thoughts come into your consciousness. The idea is to notice what comes up without much ado… gently bringing your focused attention back to your breath over and over and over again. That’s it. You cannot do this wrong.
A technique that I developed as a way to bring your unthinking, habitual, primitive hindbrain into the thinking, conscious, front brain in order to create stress relieving perceptions (SRPs). When you become aware that you are experiencing stress… going down the path of negativity, fear, and/or anger, try this:
S top (pause)
O pen up (to the response/feeling-tone of your body/mind in this moment… feel your feet on the earth, your heart beating in your chest, come back to yourself)
B reathe (purposefully and slowly)
E ngage (focus in on lengthening and controlling your breath. Begin to slowly breathe in for a 4-6 count, pause for the same amount of time, then exhale slowly out of your mouth making a “haaaaahhhh” sound for a 4-6 count, pause with the breath out for the same count. Repeat twice more.
R e-perceive (actively choose to re-perceive thus allowing space and opportunities for a new response… a stress relieving positive perception)
up notice that you moved from the lower reactionary hindbrain to the higher thinking front brain and feel how this feels. This will begin to create a new pathway, the more you practice this… the more you will practice this. It becomes a natural healthy habit… creates a new neuronal pathway, a new groove.
Find a comfortable place to sit or lay down. In your minds eye, visualize a calm serene place and see if you can immerse yourself in the experience with all of your senses… see it (palm trees, blue skies), hear it (oceans waves, children laughing), smell it (coconut oil, fresh air, a barbecue), taste it (salty water), feel it (warmth of the sun on your face, cool ocean water as you float on a raft). You can also visualize yourself enjoying your stressors and being able to perceive them positively and in ways that give you a feeling of accomplishment and success.
Starting with your feet and working your way up to your face, progressively alternate between contracting a muscle group and then relaxing. Now, rest in the feelings of relaxation and calm that you have created. The more your practice this, the easier it becomes to recognize muscle tension and then choose to drop into a more relaxed state.
*Manage Your Time-
Take control of your activities, prioritize, learn to say no, let go of unrealistic expectations (being overly busy is not necessarily a good thing… unless it is), keep a calendar as a way to write all of your stuff down so it doesn’t have to clutter your mind. Switch out your perception to one that embraces your activities as opportunities to do things and begin to enjoy your busyness particularly if you cannot Change or Eliminate things from your life.
*Smile, Laugh, Play-
Take part in activities that you enjoy on a regular basis. Go to a funny movie with a friend, play board games or a sport. Smile and/or just start laughing… even if you don’t feel like it… it soon becomes real (this also helps your body to change physiologically… Oxytocin is secreted and your heart rate is lowered).
Your body needs to move… join a fitness club, hike, walk the dog, run up and down the stairs, do some sun salutations, play a sport, go to a yoga class, etc.
*Take a Technology Break-
When we have access to information 24/7, a great deal of stress due to information overload is experienced. It seems that even if the information is positive… it is still too much. The science on this is still coming in. So, why not try taking breaks? Go outside, do some yoga, write a poem, eat some dark chocolate…
Final thoughts: You must believe that you can choose to practice these techniques… you are not helpless, you have control. And, you must believe that they do indeed change up your brain… create a new neuronal pathway of positive perceptions. Additionally, how you practice these techniques is important. If you drink your green tea, meditate, volunteer, etc. with a bad attitude or in a way that is harried… lacking in mindfulness, then it won’t bring you what you desire… wellness and a higher quality of living. Find what works for you and choose to do it with a sense of joy!
“I drink green tea,
I eat granola,
I want to smack someone”~ unknown
“Folks are generally about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”~ A. Lincoln