What if I told you that stress isn’t designed to be bad for us?
We are often taught that stress is this big bad thing out to ruin our lives, and is something that negatively impacts us mentally, physically and emotionally. So many of us lead busy lives and have many stressors that are constantly bombarding us. Yet, why is it that two people who have the same amount of stressors in their lives can subjectively feel completely different levels of stress?
The real question isn’t ‘why do we HAVE so much stress in our lives?’, but ‘why do we FEEL so much stress in our lives?’
The reality is that the stress that we feel isn’t something happening to us, but rather it is how we are perceiving and responding to the events in our lives on a biological level. For instance, if we see something that looks like a snake on the ground, for most of us a sense of fear and apprehension builds because we have a natural fear of something that could potentially harm us. That fear releases a cocktail of stress hormones and chemicals in our bodies, elevates our heart rate, and prepares us to move quickly out of harm’s way. If, on the other hand, we recognize it is the branch of a tree we simply go and move the downed branch, there is no internal stress response, and we calmly move on with our day.
Remember that stress does not come from what is going on in your life. It comes from thoughts about what is going on in your life. - Andrew Bernstein
So, what controls how we perceive the events and stressors in our lives?
Our bodies are made up of about 30-100 trillion cells and each of those cells are controlled and coordinated by the incredible master control system in our bodies, the nervous system. Your nervous system controls every physiological function within your body and it’s also your perception system - it is how you process all the physical, mental, emotional, and chemical experiences in your life.
Although this Nervous System is remarkable, there is a limit to its ability to handle information and input. When we have far more stressors than we can handle over a period of time, it actually shrinks our bandwidth, or our capacity to handle new information. This is often when we start to feel burnout, fatigue, and many other physical symptoms. When we have too many of these inputs, we perceive them as stressful. But truly it is only our inability to process and integrate those stresses and challenges that slows us down.
The truth is that we are designed to grow from the stressors and challenges in our life. Just like when we go work out and we intentionally put our body through a stressor in order to grow muscle, improve our heart and lung capacity, improve mental health and all of the other amazing benefits that come from moving our bodies. Other stresses in life are no different. They are constantly inviting us to look at a situation from another angle, improve our communication or relationship skills, and to develop into a better version of ourselves in some way.
So how do we increase our ability to process and integrate stressors in our lives? I believe that integrating and growing from stress is something we are always going to be getting better at, but here are three things that I’ve found to make a big difference in my own life and those that I work with.
Check and Balance your Perspective.
Whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressed out, take a few moments to categorize the things that are causing that stress response. Are they snakes or sticks? Ask yourself what the worst-case scenario is, chances are, even the worst-case scenario is something that you can recover and grow from.
Physical movement and breath.
Moving and breathing intentionally is so helpful for every aspect of our health and also helps our nervous system to process those stressors that build up. I always encourage everyone to find ways to move that they really love and enjoy - and get creative with it! There are so many amazing resources here on Daniel Island from walking the trails, taking fitness classes, or even dance classes! I’ve recently been switching up my routine and adding some classes from the Bar Method which have been really fun. We’re also excited for the new Revive yoga studio that is opening this month!
The process of vitalistic chiropractic adjustments that facilitate neural integration has truly changed my life. Adjustments help to increase vagal tone in the body, decrease blood pressure, increase heart rate variability, slow down resting heart rate, and increase theta brain waves. The combination of those physiological functions set your body up to unwind stress and tension and heal from the chronic stressors in your life!
One of the most important tools in living a balanced life is being able to really tap in and listen to what we really need in that moment and how we can best support ourselves. Do we need to journal and process our thoughts and feelings? Is our body craving more nutrient dense foods and quality hydration? Do we need to slow down and say NO to more things on the calendar? Get out and connect to nature? There are so many great things that can help our body and nervous system regulate and adapt better but we are the only ones who can really listen to what we need in a particular moment, day, or season of our lives.
Let’s flip the script on stress and start improving our adaptability and resilience to the stresses in our life so that we can live longer, fuller, happier lives - for ourselves, our families, and our community!
Dr. Rachel Wurdemann is a vitalistic chiropractor and owner of Sanctuary Blue: A Center for Optimal Living. She specializes in a gentle holistic approach to neural integration and whole-body wellness. She has a background in health and life coaching and received her Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life University in Atlanta, Ga. She lives on Daniel Island with her husband Josh and their 3-year old son, Maverick. In her spare time, you can find her at the beach, climbing, in the gym, reading a good book, playing board games, and enjoying nourishing food.
~ Life is too short to not feel good and spread joy ~