Stress, friend or foe?

We live in times of continuous stress in our personal and professional lives, experience time conflicts, lack of balance between work and rest, business and quiet time, too much information available to us, often multi tasking and seeing ourselves less connected to others than ever before.

Why is it that some people are more resistant to stress than others?

How can we be resilient and meet our edges without falling apart?

The key answer to those questions has to do with our attitude and perceptions as to whether we accept stress or suppress it, see it as a challenge versus a threat. Some amount of stress, in intervals, helps our body and mind. Blood vessels dilate and remain more relaxed, the heart pumps more blood which releases more oxygen to the brain for clarity and processing thoughts, emotions and feelings. Our cells stay active and young and the adrenals and cortisol levels go back to a normal baseline.

However, prolonged stressful experiences are dangerous for health and homeostasis. The metaphor of a bow can be helpful to understand. If we pull the bow too taunt and overstrain it, resilience is lost and the bow breaks. So do our bodies and mind and we eventually experience dis-eases or illness. Another example, this time about frogs, is that when we put them in a pot of boiling water, they jump out. If we put them in a pot of water and heat it up slowly they don’t jump out and they will die.

Minimal amounts or occasional stressors motivate us, stimulate growth and help us develop balance. Our attitude or relationship to internal or external stressors is the overriding factor that determines our ability to integrate them or not in our mind. Circumstances are always neutral. Most stress is created by our mind which monitors and regulates the flow of energy and information we create or are exposed to.

What is needed for us to respond in a healthy way?

Relaxation exercises, meditation, embodied awareness movement and yoga, beneficial communication skills, cultivating loving kindness and compassion for oneself and others are essential for us to be well and well flourishing. Exercising the muscles of the mind and heart of compassion are necessary, because the body and the mind are one.

These skills acquired through continuous practice assist us in paying attention to what matters, be aware of imbalances and emotional dis regulation and create intentions to be at ease in our body, mind and spirit.

How we respond to stress, non beneficial feedback, habitual unwholesome patterns, or always expecting negative outcomes determines how we seek meaning and purpose in our life and whether we call ourselves creative human beings in the midst of our families, circle of friends, work colleagues and in our communities.

Pierre Zimmerman, 11/2/14

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