Harnessing Stress

Harnessing Stress

In this day and age, we are no stranger to stress. The key isn’t to deny stress, but to recognize and acknowledge it—and then to find an upside. A full-throttle fight-or-flight response is not the only correct reaction to stress, it is just the most common. 2020 has given everyone a more stress-hardy mindset.  We all hunkered down. Remember our stress response, affects our cardiovascular system, immune system, and a general sense of well-being, all have taken a hit over the last year.

While some stress in the local environment appears inevitable, when your body repeatedly encounters a set of physiological changes dubbed the “stress response”, your learned response is key. Stress may contribute to or exacerbate various health problems. However, stress can also help you identify your stress warning signs and teach you how to better manage stressful situations on a daily basis.

One modification to the stress response is called tend-and-befriend: people need to reach out to friends and relatives in the community—to assure themselves that loved ones were alright, to comfort the distressed or bereaved, and to shore up social networks.

Learn to connect in new ways, will actually help reduce stress. That’s because tend-and-befriend also involves different balances of hormones—in particular, increased levels of oxytocin. It makes the brain’s reward centers more responsive to social contact, and it is an important part of resilience. Figuring this out within the new “social distancing” guidelines is the trick.

Dialing back from full-on fight-or-flight can be simply a matter of changing your mindset.  Whatever you’re doing, don’t pretend that stress doesn’t exist. People who deny it tend to isolate themselves and reinforce their fears. Fear is often described as False Expectations Appearing Real. Instead, you can recognize why you’re experiencing this stress and look for all the positive aspects and adapt to it. Are you learning something from it? Are you gaining strength? Are you connecting with people on a different level? Do you feel more intensely alive?

Be aware of all you CAN DO? When you notice a racing heart. First, pause and realize that your body is trying to give you more energy and see if you can capitalize on that. Always question “What is in your control”?  Am I able to maintain socially distant behavior while keeping my sense of stress under control?  

Don’t deny the stress, but redirect your energy away from it. Doing some small act of kindness for someone and note the mental reward you reap. Be the one aware and greeting someone without physical contact. Nurture your social network. Care for self and for others. Smile.

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