Too much to do? Running like crazy? Hardly able to take a breath? Worried about money, somebody’s health, a deadline? Awake at night with the stress by day?
Stress. When it’s chronic, it can be toxic to our body, mind, emotions and reflected in our negative behavior. But when it’s acute, stress can actually be a motivating factor for positive change.
God (or the Universe, however you want to see the world) played his usual tricks on me. A few weeks ago, I was invited to give a workshop on the “Upside of Stress” and gladly agreed. Knowing that stress is energy which can be consciously transformed into positive change, I thought, No problem! It will be fun.
But the joke was on me. God seemed to say, “Okay, Catherine, if you’re so smart and want to talk about transforming stress to 50 other souls, then let’s see what you are made of.” Wham-O! One thing seemed to come after another. Work piled up on top of work, I injured my hand and it became infected, and my taxes were due. It was all just enough to test my resolve and big, fat ideas!
To deal with this stress, I first tried to make a reasonable assessment of what I might be able to achieve every day. Then I tried to focus on single tasks and chunks of work. In between, I incorporated short but regular breaks during which I would spend time working in my garden (another thing on my list, but a nice thing to do.) When I felt panic, I talked with my husband about my fears. One afternoon, I made sure I had time to meet with a good friend, just to chat in the June sunshine. Another day, I purposely slotted two hours for swimming. Afterwards, I realized how happy both these activities made me feel. In the end, I was busy up to the very last minute before the workshop!
Stress is a part of life, because life is full of uncertainty and change. As human beings, we are also limited and imperfect in how we manage this art form called “authentic living.” Lots of things can stand in the way of what we may perceive as our state of peaceful joy. If everyone and everything could just leave us alone! But they can’t. And even if they did, we would still be stuck with ourselves.
Learning how to garner the stress we experience and turning that energy into positive change is a lifelong activity, full of lifelong rewards. A meaningful life is often one full of stress. The point is this: our attitude towards stress needs to encompass the understanding that our stressful feelings bring opportunity for choice and change. Stress is a signal that you are out of your comfort zone – and that you need to use your will, make a choice, and change something in your life.
You know those fluttering butterflies you feel in your tummy whenever you must make a presentation or face a difficult situation or person? Changing your attitude towards stress means knowing that those fluttering butterflies are energy, and then transforming that energy so that the butterflies can fly in formation.
By embracing the part of ourselves that helps us adapt to stress, we can also begin to practice expressing higher qualities like acceptance and courage. One way to start changing stress into positive energy is to say the following words of Reinhold Niebuhr:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Scientific research has shown that finding meaning in your life reduces stress. We can often endure acute stress when we keep the higher purpose of our situation in mind. We find meaning in life through satisfying personal activities, enjoyment of the arts, beauty and nature, and through our life struggles which lead to personal and professional growth.
Stress can also bring us into relationship with others. Oxytocin, a hormone released whenever we are experiencing stress, actually induces us to want to be with others whom we care about. When you are feeling stress, see it as an opportunity to reach out to someone who cares about you and with whom you can share your feelings and experiences. Being in relationship only makes us more human and helps us to learn more about who we are.
This week, try to see the sunny side of stress. For a list of ways to transform stress into positive energy, click here. If you feel that you are experiencing a more toxic form of stress, take the first vital step and make an appointment with a counselor or your doctor. Know that every step you make is helping you become a more joyful and fulfilled person, full of light and love.