For the majority of us, just waking up each morning can be stress inducing. From the blaring alarm clock to watching the morning news (“5 murdered last night”; “unemployment is rising”) to the grinding morning commute, stress seems to be lurking all around us.
And it’s even more stressful to read reports about how stress can practically kill us by causing heart disease, killing the neurons in our brains and making our immune systems weak, among many other horrifying things.
But it’s all a matter of perspective and how we deal with stress. If you’re the kind of person that reacts to stress with anger, guzzling a bottle of whiskey or eating two days worth of donuts, then yes, perhaps stress isn’t your friend. However, if you understand that stress can have its benefits, then maybe you and stress can get along.
No one ever invites stress into their lives; it just shows up, like a D-list reality “star” to an A-list red carpet event. Who invited that person? But unlike Snooki or the Kardashian clan, stress can actually make us better equipped to face the world.
Just look to the trees.
A few years ago I watched a video that gave perspective into the Biosphere 2 project. Some may recall that back in the early 90’s or so, a glass-walled dome was created deep in the Arizona desert where scientists examined dozens of varieties of plants and animals. It was like a mini-Earth put under glass where scientists could learn about the Earth’s Eco-system in controlled environment. Everything was perfectly laid out, or so they thought.
The plants and trees thrived quickly, growing tall and proud much faster than their counterparts out in the wild. But then, before the plants and trees could reach their “reproductive” age, they became limp and unstable. No longer prominent, they appeared dejected and unwilling to put up the good fight.
So what happened? It turns out life in the Biosphere 2 was a little too perfect. There were no stressors. The scientists didn’t account for things like wind, which in the real world, can make trees and plants with the most elegant posture lose their balance. Sometimes wind can gust so strong that it can cause damage and even uproot the sturdiest of trees.
They discovered that without the stress of frequent and infrequent winds, hearty trees like the Acacia failed to develop the specialized bark necessary to grow strong. The lack of wind created trees that grew quicker, but developed much softer wood than their wild counterparts, thus making them less able to survive in the long run.
Sometimes we all need a little tension in our lives. It’s what breeds strength and creativity.
Stress can help us deal with danger or change and can make us better able to deal with situations. Stress can make us resilient and when it knocks us off balance, it teaches us how to get back up. Stress can motivate you to do a better job, or indicate that you need to reroute yourself towards something different.
However, if stress is overtaking your life and you’re finding it hard to deal with the day-to-day, then it’s certainly not a good thing.
Here are 3 things to consider when facing stress:
1. Be in the present. Don’t think about the past or the future, they don’t exist. The only thing that exists is the present moment. Be present and know that problems are only “problems” if they are given fuel, and that fuel is repetitive thinking about said problem.
2. Breathe. Simple right? But think about the last time you were overridden with stress. By breathing mindfully, you can actually recalibrate the oxygen/carbon dioxide ration in your body. I’m sure your body will thank you by relaxing.
3. Ask yourself: How important is this “problem” to me? Is it worth it? Will the solution eventually present itself? Will getting stressed out accomplish anything or make the “problem” go away? My guess is no.
The better we can handle stress, the more we can make it work for us. Often times, creativity is born under a stressful situation, crafting an even better situation that probably wouldn’t have presented itself if it weren’t for stress. Perhaps the next time stress knocks on your door, invite it in for a quick cup of coffee and then kindly show it to the door!