Make Stress Your Tool for Good
Stress often has a negative connotation. Have you ever heard someone say, "I'm so stressed!" and mean it in a good way? Even so, stress can be good — or at least not all bad. When you transform your relationship with stress, you may use it as fuel to help instead of hurt you.
I think about my mother's death. When it happened, I felt a myriad of unfamiliar emotions — it was so far beyond anything I could comprehend. I could allow these feelings to overwhelm me, but I wanted to learn to work with them instead of being controlled by them.
That's when I dug into mindfulness and stress relief meditation; they've become tools I can now return to, again and again, no matter what kind of stress I'm feeling.
A Blueprint for Transforming Stress
Stress is inevitable. A world without it simply doesn't exist. Once you accept that there will be stress, the question becomes, "How can I use it to my advantage?" Try these five techniques:
Recognize that signs of stress mean you're invested.
Short-term stress – worrying about a presentation at work or meeting your partner's parents – can be beneficial because it means you care. Replace any anxious, stress-inducing thoughts with saying, "I understand that this, too, shall pass."
Reframe the way you see the stress.
Once you've changed your relationship with the stressor, it opens up a world of possibilities. We recently had a baby, and when she's fussy during the night, I don't think about the bags under my eyes or how tired I'll be in the morning. I reframe my relationship to stress by remembering how much I've always wanted to be a dad and how grateful I am to spend time with her. By focusing on the positives in the situation, I can enjoy these sleepless nights.
Incrementally pick away at your stressor.
There are many things outside of our control. While I couldn't change my mom's passing, I could engage in self-care activities, like exercising. I could further my journey into mindfulness to develop more stress management techniques. And I could choose to honor her by keeping her memory alive and living a life I know she would be proud of.
Get ready for stress before it hits.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, there is something to be said about reducing stress by actively inviting it into your life. Put yourself in situations where you're a bit off-balance — maybe it's giving a speech in front of a crowd or training to climb a mountain. This will allow you to live within your passion and purpose. You'll experience stress as a way to spur you on to an accomplishment. The more practice you have with stress, the easier it becomes to handle.
See the stress for what it is.
Whatever the situation or circumstance you're going through, those thoughts you have about it are not you. Use mindfulness to slow down and observe your thoughts to better assess what's going on. You may recognize changeable patterns in how you respond. Instead of impulsively reacting with a conditioned response, you can practice engaging in a way more aligned with the life you want to live.
Using Stress to Your Advantage
In the time following my mother's death, I cultivated a mindfulness practice that I took into a middle school, where I could touch the lives of hundreds of kids. I could turn that stress into energy that could translate into something positive.
Different kinds of stress affect us in various ways. Suppose you've experienced trauma that's resulted in chronic, deeply rooted stress. It may be helpful to seek professional support to go along with a mindfulness practice like stress relief meditation. That could be therapy or a personally supportive activity like art, music, or dance.
Even when difficult to bear, stress does not have to rob us of joy. As we pursue our highest purpose in life, pressure will repeatedly emerge. Instead of letting it derail you, think of it as a tool you can use to help you be the best version of yourself.
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