Making Friends with Stress
By Jacinda Firth
There are constant warning labels out there about the perils of stress. These messages can arouse our entrenched patterns of resistance to difficulty, discomfort and challenges, in turn creating a tug"a"war reaction to stress. Though good intentioned, the information we are inundated with about stress as "the enemy" does little to assist when it shows up so readily in our day to day lives. We are told that the consequence of experiencing stress can negatively impact our health, causing wear and tear on our bodies, getting in the way of our accomplishments and depleting our relationships. Hence, we begin to define stress as bad for us.
What if we shift our thinking about stress from being the enemy to that of a friend we can invite in when we hear them knocking at the door? We can make the choice to open the door and sit with "stress" for a while, creating space to pay attention to the message it tries to offer us, gain insight and perspective with less resistance. Like most friendships, we can put off the knock for a while with the stance that "while this friendship is important to me, I can come back to visit later." As often happens when a friend becomes really concerned about you, you may notice them becoming a bit more effortful in their attempts to catch your attention and in some cases you may eventually find yourself in the midst of a full intervention!
As with any great friendship, setting healthy boundaries is key. While we can appreciate and validate our time with stress, it doesn't define all aspects of our experience, sometimes our stress response gets it wrong, or not quite right and we can utilize other skills to help us determine this; using reason and logic, past experience, taking a step back with a temporary distraction, consciously calming our emotions with deep breathing and getting opinions from other trusted sources.
However it happens, when we take the time we may discover that stress isn't the issue, but rather our relationship to it is. Making this shift allows room to consider the merits of stress. Just like a good friend, it can bring out the best in us, holding us accountable and challenging us to perform to our fullest capacity when we need to most.
Experiencing stress due to challenges and adversity lends itself to repair and even new growth. We learn that we can adapt, deepen our connections, and with confidence know our own limits, strengths and resilience. When we consider our relationship with stress like this, it allows us to re"define it more positively in a healthy way.
Jacinda Firth is a registered professional therapist at the NorWest Community Health Centres, Thunder Bay site.
May 12 to 18 is National Mental Health Week. This is an annual event to encourage everyone to reflect on mental health issues.
Feel Better, Live Longer, Be Happier