Trying to reduce stress can be stress-producing. The simple way to reduce stress starts with a whole person understanding of stress so you stop worrying about the effects of stress on your health. In this article, I share how to recognize stress as an invitation to be well now and then take the three steps to shift from stress to well.
The simple way to reduce stress is to first understand it
Your body-brain-spirit has two modes survive and thrive.
Survive is triggered when there is a real or potential threat to your ability to be safe:
Physically - free from harm
Mentally - having enough information to protect yourself from harm
Emotionally - able to receive the ‘messages’ contained in all feelings
Spiritually - able to express who you are and what is important to you
When safety in one or more of these elements is actually or potentially threatened, your whole person gets ready to fight, flee, or freeze against that threat.
Mentally - focused on the problem, gathering all you know from past experiences and future predictions to know how to protect yourself from harm
Spiritually - measures the level of this real or potential threat to what matters most to you in life.
Emotionally - turn those thoughts (conscious and subconscious) and information from your spirit into sensations in the body to alert you there is a threat
Physically - your body prepares to move. Energy use shifts away from healing, growing, and learning to being ready to take action
To put it simply, stress is your whole person is in the state of ‘trying to get somewhere else’.
Stress is not a problem, it is an invitation to be well now
This stress state is not at all a problem. Rather, it's essential for living. It is designed to protect your whole person. Why? So that you can survive. Why? So that you can thrive.
Thrive is the state where your whole person grows, learns, and heals. It is the state that allows you to connect with others and contribute to the world in the way only you can.
When you are connecting and contributing:
Mentally - able to use all parts of your brain together to access a broad range of skills and strengths
Physically - your body is able to use energy to easily connect with others and carry out those tasks that allow you to contribute.
Emotionally - your emotions are guiding you to connect and contribute
Spiritually - you use with ease your unique set of strengths, skills, and passions to connect and contribute
This is the state of being well. It's not when everything externally is going the way you want. It's not even when you feel amazing. Well is simply when you are listening to and trusting what each part of your whole person is telling you now. When you are well, you are using your inner guides to living on purpose, connecting and contributing with ease, and enjoying life.
In other words, thriving is not so much about what you produce. Thriving is about the internal sense of being safe, connected to who you are, and contributing both to your own well-being as well as the well-being of others.
How to make stress management simple again
In the hunter-gatherer days, this was simple. You had your role in a tribe, you all worked for the common goal of having food, protection from predators, and supporting each other. When there were threats, you used survival mode to protect yourself and your tribe. After the threats, you shifted back into putting energy into thriving.
In the modern-day world, using these two modes is not so simple. It helps to remember they are meant to be a cycle. Stress is there to let you know there is a threat to one or more elements of your well-being. When stress is an invitation to tune into your inner guides, you simplify stress management.
In our modern-day world, where most threats are not immediate, we have the luxury of pausing and evaluating if they are real or imagined. This is why mindfulness is a key element to wellbeing. It's the practice of pausing and checking in internally so we can use stress to flow back to being well.
But mindfulness is only half the solution. Once your attention is back in the present moment, and you can listen to whats happening mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, you still need to complete the stress cycle by moving in a way that clears the ready-to-move state of the body.
The simple way to stress reduction is
Know your stress state signals. Stay aware of your unique signs of stress. It may be grazing in the kitchen, scrolling on social media, or intensely trying to get through your to-do list.
Bring your attention back to your body. Your body is always in the present moment. Whether that is noticing your breath, your feet on the ground, or your sense of smell or sight, your body brings your brain back to the present.
Move mindfully as you are designed. Learn how to Move Well so your movements can be supportive, not straining for your body. Trying to stretch tight muscles by forcing them into certain positions or going to a loud class with an instructor yelling at you can be more stress-producing than well-producing.
Redefine exericse as any time you move mindfully for whole person self-care by rewiring what it means to exercise. When it aligns with exericse science principles specifically for health and movement science principles specifically for functioning in daily life, exercise has the best chance of leaving you feeling better. When you do science-based movement mindfully, exercise is transformed into whole-person self-care.
The steps may be simple but finding exercises that are for people wanting to feel and function well in daily life (vs. athletics or aesthetics) is not always easy. That is why I created Exercising Well. Click here to learn more about how to Start Well so you can use exericse to Be Well Now