Category Archives: Outlook

Is Stress Your Venom or Your Spiderman?

Ack!  Stress!
“Stress!  Baby you got it! Oh yeah!”  (I’m sure there’s some popular tune we could sing that to.)
We all have stress.  Every day.  And you probably don’t want it.
We’re’ constantly being told that stress should be reduced, eliminated or managed.  “Stress kills.”  “Stress is harmful.” Blah, blah, blah.  We are put under so much pressure to reduce stress that we stress about stress.  (Ironic, really.)
You Can Be Liberated
I’m going to tell you something that can liberate you from the stress of stress…
Stress is good.
It can make your life better.
You don’t believe me.  I don’t blame you – we’ve all been brainwashed.
I won’t go into the details of how early stress researchers got it horribly wrong.  Suffice it to say that modern research has established, rather convincingly, that we are actually built for stress, and that when used properly, stress is a benefit.  Consider this:
“A stress response that supported only two survival strategies — throw a punch or run like hell — would truly be a mismatch for modern life.  But the full picture of the human stress response turns out to be much more complex.  Fleeing and fighting are not the only strategies your body supports…It can activate multiple biological systems, each supporting a different coping strategy.  Your stress response won’t just help you get out of a burning buildng; it will also help you engage with challenges, connect with social support, and learn from experience.”  ~ Kelly McGonigal, Phd, The Upside of Stress.
You see, your brain is programmed with multiple responses to stress, each response designed to deal with a different type of situation.  The brain releases hormones and sends signals to the body to turn off or activate systems that we will need to address the presenting challenge.
How we think about stress determines whether it will be helpful or harmful.
When we see stress as bad we fight against the body’s natural response that is trying to help us.  We resist the body’s response rather than address the cause of the response.  We act in ways that are counterproductive to solving the challenge or problem.  This usually doesn’t turn out so well.
When we see stress as helpful, we allow the body to do what it was designed to do, and take actions that will benefit us.   We allow the body to provide us with clarity, focus, energy, confidence, empathy, connection, and more.
Here’s an example.  Most of us have heard of a “flow” state, often referred to as being “in the zone.”  It happens with elite athletes, performers and other highly trained individuals (it can actually happen with just about anyone, but that’s a topic for another time).  Contrary to what many think, these individuals are not in a state of calm.  They are in the midst of a stress response that allows them to perform at high levels.  They don’t fight the body’s response, because they don’t see it as bad.  They embrace it, and they benefit accordingly.
We don’t have to be “in the zone” to benefit from a stress response.  We just have to look at stress as something that can help us.
Here’s How to Get Started
Here are 3 simple steps to help you start transforming your mindset about stress (or for you Marvel superhero fans, transform stress from Venom into Spiderman):
  1. Recognize and acknowledge stress when you feel it. “Yep, there’s my body acting stressed.”
  2. Welcome the stress response and recognize it for what it is. “Hello stress! Okay, my body is gearing up to help me tackle this challenge.”
  3. Make use of the energy that stress gives you, instead of wasting that energy trying to manage your stress. Direct it towards taking action, reaching out for connection, and creating some benefit. “Woohoo! Here we go!”
A Final Thought
Yes, there are negative situations that give rise to stress.  Yes there are experiences in life that just plain suck.  We need to see both the negative and the positive – then choose to focus on the positive.
You can transform stress from Kryptonite into the power to fly (yes, I know I just switched to a D.C. Comics analogy)…if you choose to.
So, give it a shot.  Make stress one of your superpowers!

Hate Exercise? You’ve Just Got the Wrong Rhythm.

“I hate it.”

The benefits of exercise are well established.  It affects your physical health, mental functioning, mood, etc., etc.  Most of us know we should be doing it, but many are not.  Why?  We can come up with excuses like, “I don’t have time”, “I don’t have anywhere to do it”, “I don’t have the right equipment”, blah, blah.  But most frequently it boils down to something else.  Recently a client summed it up nicely, “I hate formal exercise.”  

Why do so many people hate exercise?  You know I’m going to tell you they have the wrong rhythms, but what are they?  

Here’s why you might hate exercise and what to do about it.  

Mind Rhythms:  You’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

Often we start to exercise, or think we should start, because we are moving away from something painful or negative.  Here are some examples.

  • I need to lose weight.
  • My doctor says I should.
  • I have to look good in this dress by the reunion
  • I hate the way I look.
  • I have to get in shape or lose my job.
  • I’m tired of feeling guilty that I’m not doing it.

Our perception determines our experience of reality.  If you go into it with attitudes like these is it any wonder that you hate it and don’t keep it up?  You’re not doing it because you want to, you’re doing it because you think you have to.  Which of the two is the greater motivator?

So then, what if you did it because you were moving towards something positive?  Compare these examples to the previous list.

  • I deserve to feel good.
  • I want to operate at my optimal levels.
  • I love the way I look and feel afterwards.
  • It’s my way of finding peace and focus.
  • I feel like I’m achieving something.
  • I enjoy the activities I’m participating in.

These have a different energy and feel, don’t they?  How you look at exercise makes all the difference in the world.  Simply put, the “why” matters.

Speaking of why, the last example on the positive list brings us to…

Action Rhythms:  You’re doing it in the wrong way.

Chances are, if you don’t like exercise you’re simply not doing something you enjoy doing.  (Duh, right?)  You don’t have to be doing Tabatas, plyo, HIIT, or bodybuilding to get the benefits of exercise.  Just because I like burpees and throwing down with martial arts experts (okay, maybe I’m weird) doesn’t mean you have to.  

It all starts with simply finding an activity that gets your body moving.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Take a walk
  • Put on some music and dance
  • Row on the lake
  • Hop on a horse
  • Throw on some rollerblades and hit a path
  • Hit a ball around the tennis court
  • Play soccer – pick-up game or recreational league
  • Get in a few laps at the pool
  • Try Tai Chi or yoga
  • Play ping pong (okay, table tennis)
  • Climb – in the gym or the great outdoors
  • Spend some time in the garden
  • LARP (if you have to ask what it is maybe you should find out and try it)
  • Go geocaching
  • Go bowling
  • Goof around with the kids
  • Coach a youth sports team
  • Play on the playground (hey, adults like to play too)

Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore.  Find something you enjoy and do it.  Make it a part of your daily or weekly rhythm.  Do it not because you have to but because you want to.  Find a positive “why” that works for you and run with it.  (Unintentional pun, but it works.)