How Stress Hardy Are You?

“Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency.”
                                                                                         -Natalie Goldberg   
Psychophysiological conditions have a mind/body connection component and are supported by science.  Chronic stress is a contributing factor for a large number of illnesses and diseases.  When the fight/flight/freeze response remains activated for an extended period of time, we start to experience certain physical and emotional effects.  According to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, stress has a great impact on our health:

 
  •     70-80% of all visits to the doctor are for stress-related and stress-induced illnesses;
  •    Stress contributes to 50% of all illness in the United States
Stress hardiness is a set of beliefs about oneself, the world, and how they interact.  It takes shape as a sense of personal commitment to what you are doing and a sense of efficacy about  your place in the world.  These factors provide an adaptive foundation of resiliency that allow you to withstand the stressors that life throws your way.  So, what are some ways to increase your stress hardiness? 

1.  Breathe.  The body cannot co-exist simultaneously in a stressed and in a relaxed state.  When you find yourself winding up and starting to go over the edge, take a few deep breaths into the depth of your belly.  It will shift you from the panic breathing of the chest  to that of slowed relaxation from the diaphragm. 

2.  Question Your Thinking.  Are you staying in reality or has your perception of the situation become distorted?   Are you clear about what is yours or are you taking on more responsibility and contribution than is yours to take?  Are you expecting perfection rather than giving yourself the space to be human?  Stress can often be averted or downgraded once we have accurately assessed reality and determined what exactly needs our attention and action and what really is not necessary.

3.  Stay in the Now.  Stress is a fear of the future which is activated when a stimulus threatens our survival.   When we  keep our feet, heart and head in the present moment, then stress for the future dissipates.   We can focus on the resources we do have at our disposal as opposed to spinning our self into a “what if” panic. 

4.  Learn to Self-Soothe.  We all need some grease for the wheels when life gets demanding.  Learning to provide a soothing cushion for ourselves is part of growing-up.  Whether yours be a particular hobby, a genre of music, a favorite form of self-care or a specific mindset that is reassuring – get to adding it to your tool box.  The more ways you have to cushion life’s edges, the softer the ride. 

5.  Take Care of Your Body.   Damn, we ask a lot of it.  It houses our heart and mobilizes our actions for some 80-plus years if we are lucky.  When we are young and bounce-backable, well … we could treat the ole machinery with some honest neglect.   But as the body ages, it is very good at letting us know that our years of hard living, while taking her for granted, will amount to payback.  So, you know the drill … sleep, eat your vegetables, take your vitamins, visit your doctor, move your body,  give in to a good belly laugh now and again and take a frequent roll in the hay.  All these things are good for you and will increase your stress hardiness.

6.  Reach Out for Support.  Yes, we all need people.  Independence is not what it’s cracked up to be, particularly when we were born to connect and have healthy wants and needs that can only be met by someone  else.  People that have peopled lives are more stress hardy.  We need to laugh, cry, share, expose our vulnerabilities, celebrate our successes and know that we are not alone and have good company no matter where we are on life’s path.    

7.  Know Your Limits.   Learning what my limits are – emotionally, physically, relationally –  and living within these limits can go a long way to free me up.  When I move past the grandiose idea that I can do all things and that I am responsible for all things, life suddenly becomes more manageable.  Learning to live within the boundaries of my own self gives me permission to let go of all the rest. 
 
Ok.  There are seven good places to start.   Take a deep breath … and just start …

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