It seems like we are all running around, moving faster, doing more and living more stressful lives. The Center for Disease Control believes 80% of medical visits are due to stress-related conditions.
So what is stress anyway? I like the simple definition of – demands exceeding their resources. This phrase can be applied physiologically when we are fighting an illness, or more commonly with mental or emotional overwhelm, which requires us to take a break and sometimes to enlist additional resources.
It seems a stressed out lifestyle has become perfectly acceptable in our culture. Some of us even wear our stress as a badge of honor, parading stress as proof that we’re busy, productive and valuable people in the world. I’ve certainly had those moments, but what if there was another way?
In 1966, thirty years after Selye coined the term stress, Lazarus created his definition and threw in a clever twist linking perception with stress. “Stress occurs when an individual perceives that the demands of an external situation are beyond his or her perceived ability to cope with them .”
I love that twist because I have witnessed a vast array of responses to stress within myself, as well as the people in both my personal life and professional life. I’m sure we all know people or patients we’ve cared for that perceive an event as a challenge while others consider it a tragedy. It’s a bit like having Jack Bauer or Scarlet O’Hara as patients. Most of us live somewhere in between feeling inconvenienced, concerned, or stressed. Nonetheless, our adrenaline and cortisol surge through the body doing their thing on overdrive.
If there is a way to bring awareness to yourself during stress and/or fear, try to get curious about what is really happening. Consider asking yourself these questions during stressful moments:
Am I safe in this moment, right now?
Is history playing a role in creating more worry or stress?
How can I meet this moment with a new perspective, or new understanding?
What might I be able to do to support myself through this?
Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the mind as a garden with many kinds of seeds: joy, peace, mindfulness, love, craving, anger, fear, worry and hate. The quality of your life depends on the seeds you water. What seeds will you water?