Podcast 009- Stress

Today we are going to talk about stress and changes you can make that will start decreasing how stress affects you.

This is an important topic for you to be aware of because not only can stress have a negative impact on your health making you susceptible to everything from the common cold to life threatening illness, but it can also be damaging to your relationships – which translates into your over all happiness. It tends to eat up your patience and make it much harder to recharge your batteries. All told, stress can definitely get in the way of you being a vibrant and powerful being.

In a previous podcast we talked about cortisol, our stress hormone that gets released every time we encounter a stressful situation in order to make us stronger and faster. If you haven't had a chance to listen to that podcast yet, or you don't really remember how it relates to this topic, you might want to listen to it once you've finished this one.

Today I want to talk about stress itself; why it's important to have some of it in your life; how to live with it as well as little tips and tools you can use to keep it in check.

Why stress is important...

I love to use the analogy of an elastic to illustrate why stress is important, because if you take a plain old elastic and set it on the palm of your hand, what do you have? A piece of rubber sitting on your hand. It does not serve a purpose. It has a lot of potential, but at that moment it is not purposeful.

The only way to give that elastic meaning – or purpose – is to add some stress to it. You have to force the elastic to grow or stretch for it t give it meaning. We all know that when eased gently an elastic can often deal with more stress than we would have originally thought, but if you pull it too far too fast and when it reaches its limit – SNAP…it is done!

When you take this elastic example and apply it to human life, you can see that some stress helps you grow. It gives you purpose and pushes you to expand beyond your current circumstances (or comfort zone). But too much stress, or totally uncontrolled stress, can result in irreparable damage.

Where does stress come from…

There are several different categories of stress which are good to be aware of because they can help you monitor and understand how they sneak up in your life.

The first are those things you do on purpose that add stress into your life – such as; anything new that you do whether it be starting a new relationship, getting a job, having a baby, moving, travelling, taking a course, learning to play tennis or to cook…

Anything new introduces the learning cycle which I won't talk about in detail here, but I do want you to know that this is a predictable cycle we all experience when we try a new thing. Awkwardness and feeling fraudulent are natural parts of this cycle, and these feelings quite naturally bring stress into our lives.

The first category of stressors is anything new that you do, that takes you out of your comfort zone. These give your life meaning and are required to live a fulfilling life.

Let's think about that for a moment. All the things in life that make it worthwhile; relationships, children, travel,  adventure, learning, careers, add stress into our lives. This also includes other acts of vulnerability that might not be new to you, but put you in the spotlight, such as: performing in front of others (speaking, acting...); putting on a big event; writing a book, etc.

These are the things that make life worth living so we do not want to stop doing them. Sometimes we recognize we need to sever a relationship because it's no longer healthy for us or end a career that is no longer inspiring us, but beyond that, these are not things we want to give up.

The second category includes the unexpected and less welcome elements that force you to make changes: major health concerns, accidents, taking on too many tasks (causing overwhelm or burnout), losing something or someone very precious to you, major money problems (bankruptcy, eviction, foreclosure), and of course, those relationships that aren't so easy to sever (like the one with an imposing and disapproving mother-in-law).

The 2nd category are big things that are unexpected or typically unwelcome in your life. They are often a more long-term part of your life whether you like it or not.

A third category of stressors are things that tend to be momentary, but still wear you out: being late for a meeting, traffic jams, flat tire, missed bus, short term sleep deprivation, a momentary unexpected expense (ticket, car repair, school trip), photocopier getting jammed, spilling coffee or lunch on your blouse, reacting to food you've eaten that didn't agree with you, listening to horrors in the news…

Category 3 are not a big deal on their own, but if not recognized for the stress that they bring, they can often be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

A final category of stressors are those things you don't even know are stressing you out, such as; food intolerances, the disruption of electro-magnetic fields on your body, dealing with a virus (without feeling sick), breathing in toxins or molds, negative thoughts (inner critic; paranoia; self-loathing) or being surrounded by negative people.

Category 4 are things that stress your body making it harder for you to deal with difficult situations and stay healthy, however until you are aware of them, there is little you can do.

Back to the elastic…

It's when our stress builds to the point of overwhelm that life stops being fun and negative symptoms such as, relationship break-up; job loss or major health concerns can occur.

So, if the elastic sitting in the palm of your hand has 0 stress (on a scale of 0 – 10) and the elastic snaps at a 10, it makes sense that you would want to be aware of your current stress levels. Even more importantly, you'll want to become aware of what your sweet spot is for stress.

In other words, what's the amount of stress that gives you purpose, keeps you growing, helps you move forwards…without hurting you and those around you?

My sweet spot is around a 3-4 which means that when I feel myself starting to go above that I need to take action and bring it down.

Just to be clear I'm not saying my stress level is always around 3 or a 4. I am saying that this is where I want to be most of the time and with awareness I have a better chance of making that happen. Otherwise I could be sitting around an 8 (like I was during exam time at University, which meant tears and anger were never far away, my health issues flared up and my relationships felt strained) and then if something else happened that brought me any higher I would have been in danger of not being able to cope at all.

You need to have a lot of tools that you can use in a lot of different situations so that as soon as you feel things building you can start releasing some of the pressure.

How does stress feel in your body?

Most of us recognize stress as tension. Maybe your shoulders are up around your ears; or you experience headaches from clenching your jaw so much. Something worth noting about this is that tension is kind of a catch 22 – stress causes tension and tension increases our stress.

Some people don't even notice their tension until their back goes out or there digestive tract goes wonky and they start getting diagnosed with irritable bowel, ulcers, or other problems. Our goal with self-awareness is to avoid these kinds of issues by noticing things like tension as soon as they arise.

My story...

I've been learning and teaching about stress for quite a while now.

I get it. I pay attention, I have lots of tools for dealing with stress and I take action. This is the formula I teach and totally believe in.

When my husband and I were first married (about 24 years ago), we moved to a country lot 45 minutes out of the city. I was going to University in Winnipeg and he worked twelve hour shifts from 6 – 6 either over night or all day. This meant we could go days without really seeing one another.

As I was driving home one wintery evening on the dark, icy highway, feeling really vulnerable and alone,  I realized that I was holding a lot of tension in my body. In fact, it felt like my legs were made of granite and my shoulders were growing out of my ears.

Suddenly I had this little epiphany; the tension in my body was not helping me be a better driver. It would not make a positive difference should my car start spinning off the road…in fact, all it was doing, was making it hard for me to enjoy the drive. It could even be argued that if I relaxed my muscles I would be better able to deal with any difficult situation should it arise.

Now, I know this sounds obvious. But for me (at 25), this was a real moment of enlightenment. I realized right then and there that I was making my life way more stressful than it needed to be.

So, it was it was that many years ago that I tuned in to the tension in my body and started making conscious efforts to release it. I learned all kinds of breathing techniques, stretches, progressive relaxation tools, yoga, meditation…all of which I use to keep tension out.

But the story doesn't end there…

About ½ a year ago my osteopath suggested I go to a physiotherapist to see if she could help me fix my posture. My health team includes a chiropractor (who I love, but don't see often right now); a massage therapist (who is fantastic); an osteopath (who I see at least monthly)... plus I'd just finished going for 20 rounds of acupuncture. The idea that I needed to add someone else to my team seemed a little over the top, but I trust my osteopath implicitly so I made an appointment and went.

And guess what?

My physiotherapist told me I'm carrying far too much tension in my back, neck, shoulders…my muscles are set to perma-fire (my term for never relax) and need to be retrained in order to learn what should come naturally to them! She even started by telling me how to breathe properly!

At first I was a little angry. What the heck, I know this stuff, I teach this stuff and I practice it…I have tools! Yet here I am, with enough tension to make my physiotherapist raise her eyebrows at me.

Why am I sharing this? Because I want you to understand that life is an ongoing journey. Knowing, being, doing…doesn't necessarily make problems all go away.

I would imagine that without my knowledge and awareness I might be in really bad straights right now as I've had a lifetime of anxiousness, experienced accidents that have caused my body to tighten up and not want to let go again and so on. Despite this I've managed to cure my irritable bowel syndrome/leaky gut, almost completely eliminate the headaches, have built strong relationships and overall really love my life.

Of course I also have periods of time when I get lazy and don't want to put so much effort into what seems like it should be automatic (like breathing!); or when I enjoy the wine a bit too much, I call these my rebellion moments and they can be refreshing too.

So hopefully, you can forgive me for my imperfections; recognize I too am living much of what I teach; and most importantly, give yourself lots of leeway to learn, be, do, ignore, adapt, forget and make mistakes.

In summary...

Tip 1 for living with stress = awareness

  • Start to notice how stress presents in your body
  • Notice what patterns you fall into as a result of stress. For example I had a pattern that every time my husband was leaving on a trip I would become cold and distant the day before he left. This was confusing to me because I really didn't mind him being away (at least not always). Once I recognized it was a stress pattern I could be more compassionate with myself and take steps to stop it from happening.
  • Beware of health cues (eating/digesting, sleeping, patience level) that arise
  • Tune in to your elastic. Give your elastic a number (from 0 – 10); identify your sweet spot (where you want to be most days); and learn tools, strategies and practices – for all kinds of environments (work, home, elevators…) so that you can decrease it as soon as it starts to rise.

I think that's enough for today's podcast…so I'm going to stop here and cover tips 2 - 5 next week.

[In the podcast I lead you through a worry container exercise at this point...if you're curious please check out the last 5 minutes there.]

With much respect for you and the journey you are on… I wish you a vibrant and powerful day.

In the meantime, if you are enjoying my podcast/articles I would love for you to subscribe, rate it, give me a review, leave a comment and or share it with others.

Click here now to enjoy our other podcasts

VPM podcast 9 ad

Getting Stress Out; Part 2

Stopping Your Ego From Running the Show