Stress & Our Perception of Stress

I was recently watching One Nation Under Stress and learned that In the 1960’s, Americans had among the highest life expectancy in the world, but currently rank at the bottom of major developed nations. One major factor in the drastic change is the fast-paced, stress-filled way most of society is living their day to day life. The problem lies not only in the amount of stress presented and pushed onto us, but how we perceive it; because how we view stress has an impact on how long we live. Studies have shown that people who experiences a lot of stress, but view it as a positive, will live longer than people who experience the same amount of stress but view it as a negative. In many cases the epidemic of suicide, obesity, violence, and drug addiction is fueled by stress and unhappiness. Society as a whole is struggling with mental health more and more and it is clearly affecting the way we function on a daily basis. Therefore, mental health and how we deal with stress is just as important in living a long and healthy life as exercise, nutrition and sleep.

Our bodies were built to detect stress and then help us flee from life-threatening situations. Biologically speaking, our bodies secrete certain stress hormones, our heart-rate increases, breathing speeds up, blood pressure rises, and growth and tissue repair shuts down. This is beneficial when needed, as long as once we reach safety our stress levels return to normal. But here’s the deal, instead of our stress coming sparingly from a life-threatening situation, now a days stress comes almost constantly from multiple areas such as work, relationships, societal and personal pressure. This never-ending stress becomes toxic and has the potential to hold you back from living a long and healthy life! If you or someone you know is experiencing a high amount of stress, it is important to implement techniques that can help mitigate the affects that stress has on the mind and body in order to thrive, not merely survive, during your lifetime.

The truth is, our bodies need certain types of stressors so that they can adapt and grow, ultimately making us stronger. When we exercise, we are technically putting our body under stress, which breaks us down. We don’t get stronger by constantly taking on more stress to the system, we get stronger by allowing our bodies time and space to rebuild; we get stronger by allowing our body to recover. 

While many of us understand that this is true for exercise, we may neglect our mental health, but stress for our mind is no different. Chronic stress leads to more discomfort and disease not only psychologically, but it affects our performance at work, the quality of our relationships, and the way we look, move and perform in our training. We must give our mind a break from the constant stress that comes from internal and external expectations or needs. By giving your mind a break, you allow space to recover and grow. You can think of this practice like you would a “recovery day” in your training cycle. Recovery days may be hard for some people because they  are of the belief that more is always better. And although those recovery days may seem uncomfortable at first, once you take advantage of them you begin to reap the rewards.

Similarly, our mind must experience times of restoration and recovery. Meditation and self-reflection time are a couple of ways we can combat stress. While these practices can be hard to implement into your busy schedule, the benefits far outweigh that sacrifice. Meditation helps us view ourselves from the outside and reminds us that while we may not be able to control everything, we always have the ability to choose our emotional response. Self-reflection done right is a great tool in helping one become more aware of their values and become honest with themselves about whether or not they are living in alignment with those values. Once we can shift our mindset around stress, we are setting ourselves up to live a longer and healthier life!

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