We all know about the negative effects of stress on our physical and emotional well-being such as high blood pressure, poor sleep, and reactionary mood swings. If you Google ‘stress management’ you’ll find many theories and techniques to alleviate stress such as:
- The AAA Model – Alter it, Avoid it, Accept it
- The STOP Method – Stop, Take 3 breaths, Observe what is happening, Proceed with new awareness
- The S.O.S. Technique – Situational Change, Optimal Self-Care, Support System
And of course, the classic recommendation of Meditation, which, although good advice to be sure, requires a mental acuity and emotional stability that might not be accessible once stress has set in. But this column isn’t about how to control stress; in the WORK_SPACE tradition, we are going to take a more welcoming, collaborative, and inclusive approach.
Is it possible to see stress not as an evil entity that interferes with the ‘normal’ process of life, but to understand it as a ‘normal’ and useful part of life? This idea, like so many radical ideas before it, came to me during a mammogram when I asked the technician why the chest had to be constricted so firmly. She explained that the key to an effective mammogram is compression, which isolates the breast and equalizes the density of the tissue, allowing for a clearer image and less radiation.
When applying the mammogram metaphor to life, we can see how in the midst of emotional compression (aka: stress), our body releases hormones that:
- Help us focus on the issue at hand,
- More efficiently mobilizes our energy,
- Intensifies our emotions which increases our ability to take in and remember information, and
- Provides clarity regarding an appropriate solution.
Genetically, the human body was designed to handle and benefit from a certain amount of stress. Of course, evolutionarily speaking, stress management was a little less complicated when our needs were restricted to survival and our response options were limited to fight or flight.
In “normal” contemporary times our multitude of choices can make life more complicated, stressors more varied, and angst habitual rather than just situational. When dealing with what has been coined “the new normal,” our options are restricted, future uncertain, and health at risk, most of us feel chronically stressed. We are caught between our physiological instincts that are pushing for the quickest way to resolve the stress, our intellect which is seeking a long-term solution, and our emotions which constantly worry about how to satisfy both our wants and needs.
There is a difference between the stressor (the virus) and the stress it causes. If you are in acute crisis, this distinction is all but irrelevant. But if you have the physical, intellectual, and emotional capacity to look at the situation objectively then stress can provide useful information and motivate beneficial action. The next time you find yourself feeling pressure from all sides, try engaging the mammogram model…
- Take a focused look,
- Squeeze out the relevant information, and
If this requires you to bare a breast or two (metaphorically speaking of course) then be willing to examine the situation (looking beneath the surface) and trust your instincts to fight, take flight or befriend the situation.
Wishing you good stress,
Ps – Physical movement, eating healthy, sleeping well, getting out into nature and being mindful are all great ways to reduce stress. Below is a list of other activities that might help you create some positive energy that mitigates negative results of stress.