That may sound strange coming from someone who’s hosting a Coping, Stress & Anxiety Summit next week but I think many of us misunderstand the problem when it comes to “stress.” I certainly did… for a long time.
The conventional wisdom is that stress is bad. We’ve been told that stress raises the risk of everything from heart disease to the common cold. And, as I’ve personally told you time and time again, stress impairs proper digestion. We’ve been told that to improve our health and well-being, we need to “reduce” and “manage” stress. Anxious? Reduce your stress. Trouble sleeping? Reduce your stress. Overwhelmed? Sick? Depressed? Reduce your stress, reduce your stress, reduce your stress.
I believed this so wholeheartedly that when I was struggling with daily panic attacks after Lily was born, I did everything I could think of to further reduce my already well-managed stress. I stopped running coaching programs. My parents helped out more with Lily. We hired someone to clean our house. I stopped practicing strenuous yoga. We stopped entertaining. I went to bed earlier. I started “tapping” and “shaking.” I used essential oils. I got acupuncture, massage, Reiki, and hypnotherapy.
This all cost me lots of money and lots of time… and I was no less anxious, panicked, or stressed. None. You know what I wasn’t addressing? My thoughts about the stress and the stressors. That might seem obvious to you, but it wasn’t to me.
And it turns out that may be the most important piece. I recently read Kelly McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress. In it, she argues that it’s not stress that’s bad… it’s how we think about the stress that determines whether it’s helpful or harmful.
According to McGonigal (and a good amount of research), there are several kinds of stress responses. The one we usually think of, the one that does have all of those negative implications listed above, is the threat response. But stress can also trigger the challenge response, the tend and befriend response, and/or the growth response, all of which can actually have positive implications. What determines whether you’ll experience one kind of stress response versus another? Largely, it’s your thoughts about stress.
While McGonigal focuses on thoughts about stress (which is important and I highly recommend her 15-minute TED talk), I think there’s a bigger picture when it comes to living WELL: it’s not just how you think about stress … but really how you view thought in general.
This is something I learned from Dr. Amy Johnson and anxiety coach Kelli Walker, both of whom will be presenting at the Summit. Through group coaching and one-on-one coaching with both Amy and Kelli, I soon came to realize that my thoughts are not necessarily true, I can choose which thoughts I want to engage with, and the thoughts I engage with are what create my experience. This applies to stress… and it also applies to everything else.
This was huge for me. In less than four months, I was feeling better than I had in four years of traditional therapy.
To be clear, what I’m talking about is NOT positive thinking or the law of attraction. It’s not magical or mystical. It’s not about pretending that your current reality is not stressful, painful, or otherwise challenging. It’s simply about understanding the nature of thought: most of our thoughts are habitual, the same thoughts we thought yesterday and the day before and the day before. Our brain is efficient that way. But our brain is also plastic… it can change. We can choose to stop engaging with those old thoughts. Stop creating stories around them. By doing that, we can change the way we experience stress and the stressful things in our lives.
This is a hard thing to explain in one short blog post and there are many avenues from which to explore these concepts. That’s why I put together the day-long Coping, Stress, and Anxiety Summit. The six experts who are presenting will be helping you change your relationship to your thoughts and your stress, through a variety of methods… which will likely lead to less anxiety, more contentment, and, probably, better health.
During the summit, I’ll also be giving away copies of the books pictured above, as they are resources that have been critical in my own understanding of these concepts. If you struggle with coping, stress, or anxiety, do consider checking them out, especially if you won’t be participating in the Summit.
Lastly, one more thing from Kelly McGonigal’s book that is relevant here: those who feel alone in their stress, as if nobody else has or understands their particular struggles, tend to have worse outcomes. Well… there are people with gastroparesis from all around the world attending this live Summit next week. People who are facing the same challenges and stressors that you are. So if you’re feeling that way, I hope you’ll join us and see that you are not at all alone.
If you can’t attend live, be sure to register anyway so that you get access to all of the video and audio recordings, as well as the special discounts the speakers are offering on additional resources and services.
** If you can’t afford the ticket price but want to attend, be sure to send me an email. **