Let’s be honest.
Human beings would prefer to feel happy and at ease as opposed to negative and stressed out. It’s called conditioning. We are conditioned to believe stress is bad for us and lack of stress is good. In fact, many industries profit by helping us to de-stress, unwind and be happy.
Whether it’s fertility stress from trying to build a family, dealing with issues at work, creating or maintaining a relationship or resolving financial problems, any or a combination of these or other causes can be a strain and often upsets us. Coping with these kinds of problems evokes an emotional and physical response that can sometimes feel unbearable. It breaks us down, depletes us and, on occasion, can lead to injury and even illness.
What if we could soar above our stressful experiences by changing the way we approach stress? It’s something I’m always working toward, and I’m not the only one. Harvard health psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonigal wrote about this approach in her book, The Upside of Stress.
Stress may not be so bad for us after all. McGonigal says that by embracing stress and changing the way we think about it, we can change the experience itself. Her view is that stress can make us stronger and happier people, if we only open our minds to it.
What stress may feel like? Here are some of the symptoms:
- Heart beating faster
- Sweaty palms
- Knots in the stomach
- Loss of appetite
- Racing mind
Embracing stress means feeling all of these aspects of it and then breathing through it. Not identifying with them and not pushing them away, but allowing them to find their way in and out, and helping them move through.
Embracing stress means changing our mindset around the idea that stress is bad and ease is good.
Research shows that how we perceive stress determines its effect on us. When we feel stress, it’s natural for our bodies to go into a “fight or flight” mode, which interferes with flexible thinking and conscious reactions. When we are able to tune into our stress and see it as a natural response instead of a threat, it becomes less distressing and more constructive. “Oh stress, here you are again.” I see you and thank you for showing up!
An interesting fact is that during times of stress, oxytocin is released in the brain. Oxytocin (the love hormone) is the hormone that can actually help your heart cells heal, and it prompts us to reach out to others for help. Dr. McGonigal goes deeper into this in her TED talk. It is indeed amazing how we are wired for connection during stressful time.
Our society today is all about staying comfortable and avoiding stress at all costs, but we will never fully escape it.
Stress exists no matter what life stage we are in. If we have to go through it, why not lean into it and make it work for us?
In my mindfulness-based, stress-reduction support groups, we focus on redefining and re-evaluating stress. We work on using stress to empower, energize, and propel us. I can say that in my experience, I have seen many individuals change the way they relate to stress by understanding and believing in stress’s upside.
Amira is a Social Worker in Toronto, Ontario. She works with individuals and couples who are struggling with infertility. Amira facilitates the Mind-Body Fertility Group at Mt. Sinai Hospital.
She is also a mother of three miracles.