We’ve been told our whole lives that stress is a killer. It can cause heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety, low productivity and a list of other perceived negative consequences, but is it really true? Can this extensive list of ailments stem from living a high stress life?
I used to buy into this narrative as most people that I encounter do. For a long time, I was concerned with lowering my stress levels and like most of western society, lowering stress levels is a matter of turning off the brain with mindless activities. Activities like watching T.V, scrolling on social media, drinking alcohol, listneing to music and sometimes more positive outlets such as exercises, reading, playing the guitar and sex. Universally, we would say that the former is less productive than the latter. What I have found and what research suggests might surprise you. People in the fitness industry broadly proclaim that 100% of your results come from 20% exercise and 80% or some variant of that breakdown. I maintain that it's neither of those percentages. I maintain that 100% percent of our results comes from the 6 inches between our ears. While nutrition and exercise clearly and scientifically has a physiological impact on the body, it is our perception of our efforts that get us the results we want. If we believe the type of exercise and food we are practicing and consuming is going to give us the results we want, our bodies will respond accordingly. If we implant the notion that the food we eat and the movements we perform are building the muscle and burning the fat we desire, the body will physiologically go to work on that notion.
Our concept of stress employs the same theory. If we believe stress is debilitating then it will stop us in our tracks and depleted our energy and efforts, however, if we believe that stress elevating it can have the opposite effect. If we conceive that stress is bad for us, it will most certainly be bad for us. On the other hand, if we believe that stress is good for us, then it most certainly will be good for us.
It all comes down to our perception. For me, when I am stressed it is typically about money, relationships and the future. I have certain expectations of how much money I’m “supposed” to have and when my bank account does not reflect that, I become stressed. I have certain expectations of how relationships in my life are “supposed” to go. When my expectations are not met, I get stressed. When I think of the future and how I’m going to provide for my family and be set up for a “comfortable” retirement, I get stressed.
The common denominator in these scenarios is that I do not feel good enough based on the expectations that I have set for myself based on what society tells me I should be. I feel unworthy. I feel less than. This debilitates my confidence which hinders my ability to take action which leads to a vicious cycle of stress.
On the flip side of that coin, when things in those areas are going well, I tend to find a positive momentum that creates more positive action which opens up other opportunities for success.
All of this is based on my expectations. I heard a wonderful analogy that says, “it's just another cold night on the side of Mount Everest” meaning that if Mount Everest was sunny and warm all the time it would not be the difficult endeavor many people work to conquer and overcome. The same goes for building a financially free future and blossoming relationships. If it were easy, everyone would do it and be successful at it. It’s not meant to be easy, so if I change my expectations and recognize that stress about these situations can be the catalyst for change in my life, I don't have to feel unworthy or have a mentality of scarcity. If I choose to feel abundant, my life will be abundant. If I choose to be grateful, my life will present things to be grateful for. It is only the meaning I give to stress that makes it debilitating or elevating. The choice is mine.