Life is demanding, amIright?
All of the responsibilities, decisions, and choices you have to make every day can push you to the very edge of your ability to keep it all together.
So you feel overwhelmed, frustrated, anxious, down on yourself, and stuck on what feels like life on a hamster wheel.
And yet, while you’re struggling inside, some women handle their life with confidence and even seem to be happy and thriving.
HERE'S THE SECRET
It’s the way you think about stress.
This one thing makes a big difference in how you experience demanding (and even not so demanding) circumstances.
And could ultimately be a life or death decision.
I know this might seem too simple and like I’m waaay overstating here.
I get it—sometimes being smart equals being skeptical.
HERE’S THE SCIENCE
The University of Wisconsin conducted a study of 30K American adults consisting of 2 questions:
For the next 8 years, the researchers tracked the participants to see who died, and those who experienced high levels of stress had a 43% increased rate of premature death.
But only if they believed stress was bad for them.
Guess who had the lowest death rates?
Not those with moderate or even low levels of stress, like you might think, but those with high levels of daily stress that simply did NOT believe that stress was bad.
HERE’S THE WHY
But wait, there’s more—researchers at Harvard University conducted an experiment to determine why lots of stress is deadly for some and not others.
The participant’s hearts were monitored while they completed a social stress test.
Not surprisingly, those who believed stress was bad showed an increased heart rate and constriction of the arteries.
This is why stress is associated with heart attacks and cardiovascular disease. Which, the CDC lists as the #1 cause of death in women!
But the study also revealed something really interesting.
HERE’S THE MAGIC
Those who were told that stress would help them through the social stress test also showed increased heart rates, but instead of constricting, their arteries relaxed and expanded.
And that’s what happens inside of your body when you experience joy. Not indifference or contentment, but JOY.
JOY: a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. (!!!)
So a simple shift in thinking is the difference between meeting the demands of life with confidence and JOY and struggling with stress and experiencing adverse health effects.
I know you’re discerning, and I like that about you a lot, so I want to point something out.
HERE’S THE PARADIGM
The placebo effect is a perfect example of how your belief directly affects your experience and how the mind and body work together to, in this case, determine how stress affects you.
When someone believes they’re getting a beneficial treatment, their mind thinks healing will occur and the body creates the conditions to make that happen.
But if they haven’t actually received treatment, the benefit is attributed to the person’s belief. Obviously, this isn’t always the case, but the placebo phenomenon is real and applies to stress.
If you think that stress is helpful, your body uses the effects of the stress response, like an increased heart rate, in a way that feels expansive and supportive.
Like you’re rising to the occasion and handling the situation in a way that feels really good.
HERE’S THE TRUTH
It works the other way too. When you believe stress is bad, it feels constricting and distressing, and you might feel like the demands of your responsibilities are more than you can handle.
Or focus only on possible negative outcomes, or be consumed with worry, frustration, and self-doubt. (Sound familiar?) And this thinking fuels a vicious cycle.
When you believe your stress response is bad, it feels bad.
You doubt yourself, and instead of welcoming the support of your stress response and using it to your advantage, which allows it to then switch off, your stress response stays on.
And you continue to feel constricted and distressed, which feels bad and IS bad for your health.
HERE’S THE DEAL
This is the cycle of chronic stress.
You continually feel overwhelmed, frustrated, anxious, and down about yourself, and you’re susceptible to the damaging health effects of stress because your stress response is always on.
It’s important to know that your nervous system is either in a stress response or in a relaxation response. It’s one or the other.
And it’s your thinking, your belief, about your normal stress response that toggles the switch.
But the good news is that you, by your ability to change your interpretation of stress from bad to helpful, have the ability to change your experience.
HERE’S THE SHIFT
If you learn to embrace your body’s built-in stress response as supportive, you can feel more calm and confident in your life instead of feeling overwhelmed and stuck.
If you learn to make peace with the stress, you can feel the body’s experience of joy instead of feeling constricted and distressed, and ultimately the harmful effects of chronic stress.
I hope you’re thinking, ok, yes, I’m ready. What do I do?
Use the acronym NOW to remember the 3-steps: notice, open, welcome. Keep it simple, but do it because you have to practice changing your mind about stress when you’re feeling stressed.
The fact is, you can’t have the life-changing magic of choosing joy, or whatever you want to feel sometime later. The opportunity to choose is always NOW.
HERE’S THE LOVE
Do you have any questions? Want to know how to apply this life-changing magic to a specific situation in your life? I’m here to help and I’m quite good at it. Comment below to get support.
It’s an honor to support you! This work is important to me because I know that making the world a better place starts within each of us and change happens one choice, one decision at a time.
This post is part of a series about what you need to know to stop struggling with stress so that you can be more calm and confident every single day.