Make Stress Your Friend #2

Flight or Fight!? How often do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or relentlessly chasing deadlines as if your life depended on it? Let’s talk about why stress has low-key been the reason we’re achieving our goals and why we need to form a healthier relationship with it. I’ve talked about this before in the first post on make stress your friend.

Today, I’ll dive a little deeper and refresh our memory on this. I’ll speak about what stress is, how it’s released, why we need to manage it and how we can acquaint ourselves to it. Nature has a remarkable way of pushing evolution forward, it’s our responsibility to learn how these innate responses affect us.

What is the stress response?

The flight or fight response is part of the sympathetic nervous system’s reaction to emergencies that you experience. This is what happens when you’re being chased by a lion, have an approaching assignment deadline or feeling sickly. The subconscious response is both physical and emotional, to optimize your reaction to the given situation.

This can work for you or against you, depending on how often you’re confronted with situations that trigger this response. The neural connections formed over the past several millennia don’t adapt quickly enough to our modern-day problems. We now experience the same stress response for much simpler issues; like not getting enough likes/followers on IG, being subtweeted or even worrying about your feed, which could start getting unhealthy.

Chronic stress is when you’re repeatedly exposed to situations that trigger the release of stress hormones in your body. This can be detrimental to your health for several reasons. Let’s discuss how the body releases those hormones and why we need to manage them adequately.

How is stress released?

Once you start thinking about all those deadlines (or when you’re faced with highly stressful encounters), how does the body react?

There’s quite a complicated process that goes on in your brain, specifically within the hypothalamus. Here’s a brief overview of what happens:

  • Epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol are released.
  • Heart rate increases.
  • Breathing intensifies.
  • Blood sugar is released, increasing energy.
  • You become much more alert and vigilant.

This process is programmed into our subconscious mind and has proven to be an invaluable evolutionary asset. But what happens when the response becomes chronic?

https://thumbs.dreamstime.com/b/stress-response-system-vector-illustration-diagram-nerve-impulses-scheme-educational-medical-information-expressive-cartoon-110617799.jpg

Why we need to manage our levels of stress

Understanding the physiological response is critical in being able to make better decisions for your own mental well-being. The constant surge of epinephrine can become very damaging after a prolonged period of time. It damages your blood vessels and arteries, which increases your blood pressure and chances of having a heart attack/stroke.

The constant release of cortisol also increases your appetite and decreases the activity in your digestive system, since your body is using up the energy reserves. This is probably the reason why people often ‘stress-eat’ and indulge in junk food when they’re feeling overly stressed.

Thankfully, there are ways for us to combat these issues and maintain a healthy outlook on the stress response.

How can we become allies with stress?

  • Acceptance
  • Perspective
  • Breathe
  • Journal
  • Exercise or go for a walk
  • Speak to someone

Acceptance is always the first key when tackling a problem. Acknowledge and be honest with yourself about it. If you’re someone who tends to get stressed more than is necessary, notice the changes that happen in your body and don’t judge yourself for it. It’s part of your evolution.

The perspective you should embrace is that of kindness. Look at stress through a positive lens and that will change your outlook on it. It’s there to help you adapt, to effectively deal with changes, to energize you, to boost your body and to get you to focus. It’s also what motivates you to get off the couch and get some work done.

Breathe. This is honestly one of the best ways to calm your body down. Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious, focus on taking in deep conscious breaths to the bottom of your abdomen. Don’t underestimate how effective this simple technique is. It will help ground you.

Here I am speaking about journalling yet again, what a surprise… It serves as an incredible outlet for you to let out emotions and clear your mind. This will help you assess the problem much more realistically and will reduce the chances of you lashing it out on others.

Exercise or go for a walk – preferably in nature. Sometimes a healthy distraction is all you need to get a grip on your thought patterns. Releasing the energy through physical exertion will certainly help calm your mind and body. Going for a walk in nature is particularly useful to gain a more philosophical outlook on the problem(s) at hand.

The last recommendation is to simply speak to someone. If you have someone that you can confide in and discuss your issues with, raise it up with them. Be wary of the energy you bring to the table, you don’t want to make them feel overwhelmed either. A great approach is to ask:

“Are you in the right emotional state to listen to what’s been stressing me out?”

Don’t bottle things up, just be considerate to others. If you’re struggling with chronic stress and feel like it might burden those you care about, consider therapy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. You’re just speaking to someone who can guide your thought patterns into something a little healthier.

I know stress is not easy to manage and it can become very overwhelming when you have several responsibilities. Keep in mind that this is all part of your journey and that it’s all contributing to your growth. Focus on having a growth mindset, find tactics to keep you grounded and always remember to breathe. Stay present, you got this.

Thinking Out Loud ~ 4

Another post where I’m just sharing the chatter that often stays in my mind. A few topics that I’ll dive into are: Art, Beauty and Change! Ahh, the only constant in life. Excited to get the ball rolling with this one, let’s learn some ABC!

I’ll share pics from the my adventures as I’ve done with the previous posts in this series.

Art

Is in the eye of the beholder. Define art, I dare you. Haha, the thing is, it’s always left up to the individual’s perception. Kind of like taste. There’s no certainty in what tastes good or bad, it all depends on the person and their experiences.

Just as our views and opinions evolve with time and experience, so do our senses. The moment we become conscious of how readily our perceptions change, the more easily we’ll become lovers of life.

I like the idea of art being related to contentment. When we’re truly able to be mindful of how certain things affect us, and be grateful for that feeling; I’d say that’s experiencing art.

Art doesn’t necessarily have to be a painting or a sculpture, it can be anything that allows you to feel connected to the world.

The sky is art. It’s different each and every day. Just like you, you’re different every day. The weather also makes us feel a certain way. Good or bad? That doesn’t matter. When it’s out of your control, learn to accept it.

The way we connect to the world is with our feelings. And feelings influence our thought patterns, which subsequently drive our behaviours! Or is it the other way around? Do our thought patterns affect our feelings?

It’s definitely all intertwined. Acknowledging that our thoughts, emotions and behaviours all affect each other, can help us understand ourselves better.

After all, we are art. Cultivated by the Creator.

The cognitive triangle!

Ahh, we’re getting somewhere with this. I’d like to touch on beauty while we’re here.

Beauty

Let me make you cringe a little (Although you’d probably love to read it anyway).

BeYOUtiful. You are beautiful. You look beautiful. You are art.

Is there a difference between being beautiful and looking beautiful? Absolutely! One is complimenting an appearance, the other is complimenting a character.

You know what’s an impeccable piece of art in my opinion? Developing your character.

Appearances are temporary, futile and lustful. Definitely something important and should be genuinely appreciated, but not the main plot of the story. Who we are, what defines us, our purpose, our contribution, our legacy. That should be our main focus.

We need to still be comfortable in our own skin. So I’m trying to find the balance between being and looking beautiful.

I’m kind of leaning towards how we should each strive to be beautiful human beings. We’re all beautiful in a physical sense. We’re all created from the same soil, the same source. We need to internalize that connection and appreciate the beauty in our differences.

But what about our spirit? We need to be ourselves.

To be yourself, you need to understand who you are! Through unfolding our turbulent childhoods, we can decipher where our belief systems came from, and see how our perceptions were formed. It’s more often than not, due to a younger version of ourselves coming to a silly conclusion about the world.

In essence, I’m encouraging journalling again, haha. Why? Because it allows you to see yourself for who you truly are, and appreciate the beauty that is your journey. To understand your own nature and beauty.

You’re not static. You’re constantly evolving. Stop holding onto false egotistical beliefs. Change the inner narrative. You’re not your circumstances, you’re more than that.

In the purest sense, you’re beautiful. You should measure that by your soul and character, not just your appearance.

Change

I love talking about change, considering how it’s one of the most consistent aspects of life. You’re not the same person you were a few minutes ago. How come? Because your physiology literally changes all the time, that includes your brain. Neuro-plasticity!

Change is inevitable, resistance is futile.

Now, what I really want to dig into, is the change we choose to suffer. We tend to associate certain changes with negativity, for various reasons. Sometimes the change is our fault and can be genuinely harmful, most of the time however, we suffer from change that is not really in our control.

When people say things like: “You’ve changed so much! You’re not the same… ”

We often associate that with faults, or that there’s something wrong with changing. We should rather embrace it and be content with our change. Of course we’re meant to be different if we’re growing and maturing. What use is it being the same?

I’m just trying to encourage one thing here, embrace change. Understand that you need to experience discomfort and non-ideal situations, to actually grow. To actually learn. To actually make a difference.

Imagine if everyone stayed the same or lived within the same conditions, how static would the world be?

This is just something that I enjoyed sharing and I hope certain aspects of it did resonate with you. Art- Appreciation. Beauty- Be yourself. Change- Certain. These quick reminders help me find meaning in the day to day struggles.

“Nobody cares about how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

So keep showing people that you care. Be grateful. Be strong. Be you. You’re everything you’re meant to be and more.

Is there any Hope?

In an era where we seem to be the most advanced and prosperous humans, everything seems to be going to sh*t. So what keeps us going?

I’ll discuss the different aspects required for hope, the 2 different ‘brains’ that we have, and a whole bunch of values! I’ll speak into certain parts of our life that seem daunting or hopeless and how to turn that around. A little bit of an Islamic perspective will also be discussed.

Through evaluating our perceptions and pain, I aim to make you feel more hopeful (or not) & better equipped to deal with life’s constant curve balls.

Inspired by: Everything Is F*cked by Mark Manson.

Let’s breakdown what hope actually is, in order to build and maintain it. There are 3 critical components:

  • Control
  • Values
  • Community

We should have a sense of control over our life, to determine our own fate. We need to understand our core values, considering it’s our driving force & what we strive for. These enable us to build a sense of community with other individuals, which is ultimately feeling like we’re part of something greater than ourselves.

If we lose any of those 3 components, we lose hope.

Having control over our own life is a critical aspect of hope. How do we gain a sense of control? We first need to acknowledge and accept that there are parts of our life that we cannot control, and that’s okay. Speaking into the parts that we can control, my idea would be to form structure and discipline. Setting out specific tasks and goals, are the easiest way to feel like we’re accomplishing something and moving forward.

Start small, stay consistent, work smart.

Build on and repeat.

Values, values, values. I can’t emphasize how essential it is, to have a solid understanding of our values. We need to know what we stand for, what we believe in, and more importantly: why. When we have a clearer idea of what our values are, we can effectively live them out. Actions speak louder than words, so we need to hold ourselves accountable to ensure we’re truly carrying out our values.

A tip for this: read the different type of values shown in the pic below, choose 2 or 3 that you truly believe in. Write them down and keep them clearly in front of your desk or wall.

Serve a cause greater than yourself. This is where community plays the biggest role in my opinion. I mention over and over again, how important it is to contribute to those around you. When things seem hopeless, what can we do? Strive to make a difference within your community. Understand that community can mean anyone you see on a regular basis. The people in your work / school environment, your neighbours and especially those who are less fortunate than you.

We're all made of the same soil, from the same planet. We're all leaders, first to ourselves then to those around us. 

Another really cool concept discussed in the book, were the 2 different types of brains that we have; Thinking & Feeling brains. These are vital to understand, because of how relevant they are in dealing with our decision making and motivation.

Why do we do things we know are bad for us?

That’s where understanding the 2 different brains come into play. The Thinking brain is what represents rational, logical & conscious thoughts. The Feeling brain represents emotions, impulses and intuition.

We do things that are bad for us because they feel good.

The Thinking brain is objective and factual. It requires a lot of energy and effort to make rational decisions. The Feeling brain however, is more subjective, highly sensitive and unreasonable. For us to be able to develop self-acceptance and a healthy mindset, we need to unify both brains. An integrated, unified and coordinated whole; where both brains interact in balance with each other.

Ultimately, we all succumb to feelings. We do things that feel good (pleasure). We avoid things that feel bad (pain). As I mentioned in Thinking Out Loud 3, our own classification of what is good or bad, is what controls our feelings. It’s empirical then, to dissociate from and accept those feelings, rather than act on them.

Here’s an incredible question that I found really difficult to answer:

When do we know whether to consciously think things through vs trusting our gut decisions?

I don’t actually have an answer for that, but it’s just something to ponder over. Think of the events that have led you to making certain decisions, and how you went about it. How does our idea of pain play a role here?

When we avoid pain, we induce stress and tragedy; which makes us fragile. Something important to realize, is that you can’t get rid of pain. It’s the universal constant of the human condition. It’s always there, the only thing that changes is our perception of it.

So how can we develop a better relationship with pain? By becoming anti-fragile. To develop a system which gains from stressors and external pressures. Not to numb the pain and constantly avoid it. But to become self-limiting and choosing what we are willing to give up. The question to then ask is:

What pain we are willing to endure?

Here’s a little Islamic perspective on hope. As Muslims, we believe that everything happens for a reason; that we’re ultimately here on a temporary journey. The hopeful aspect regarding this, is that no matter what happens to us, we believe it’s destined. That this world is a trial to the Hereafter.

“Islam encourages a person to be optimistic and plant a seed even in the last minute of his or her life, irrespective of the fact that the person who planted the seed, may not yield its fruit.”

So if we’re trying to stay hopeful amidst all this chaos, what can we do?

Ensure that we have a foundation in the 3 components discussed earlier; Control, Values & Community. We can develop a sense of control by forming structure. Live through our values by first understanding them. Become part of the community by serving those around us.

Understand that we have two different “brains” and the importance of integrating them both. To be accepting of our pain and learn to become anti-fragile.

So the point of all this is essentially not to have hope. To be hopeful, you need to believe that things are going to sh*t. Instead, just Be. Don’t hope to become better, BE BETTER. Live for now, and give each moment your best shot. Your perception of the world is evolving each and every day, nothing is meant to be static.

“The only thing that is constant, is change.”

Heraclitus