April is Stress Awareness Month, but let's face it, you're probably already "aware" that stress is a daily part of your life. But consider this month a unique opportunity: 30 days dedicated to educating yourself and perhaps finding a way to elevate your level of awareness. Bring your full conscious attention to your experiences of what you currently call "stress" in your life. Maybe it's some aspect of parenting your kids, sleepless nights, your boss, annoying co-workers, in-laws, bills, your tax liabilities, trying to find a date, traffic, an upcoming performance review, the uncertainty of your job, neck pain or concern for loved ones in areas of unrest around the world. Stress is inevitable, but being stressed-out is not. You can learn to transform potentially harmful reactions into healthy responses.
I want you to consider that stress can be the difference between wellness and illness. That said, in certain ways and from time to time, you as an individual and we as a society can benefit from stress. In a classic article in The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Bruce McEwen, a chief scientist at the Rockefeller Institute, described the double-edged effects of stress. In the unexpected situation, the stress response is great and protective. The immune system boosts, and there is a shift in metabolism that fosters an overall positive response. However, long-term, ongoing, chronically stressful situations wreak havoc on many body processes, including the immune system, the cardiovascular system and the gastrointestinal system. The truth is that long-term, uncontrolled stress can kill.
So here is my approach. The important goal in identifying and managing stress is to find that optimal level within your 'best stress zone' that you need to work most effectively. With too much stress one can become overwhelmed, which puts a lot of strain and pressure on the body, but zero little stress might inadvertently have the opposite effect: it would produce complacency. There is indeed a fine balance that must be maintained to reach one's highest potential on a day-to-day basis.
In order to achieve what I call "optimal stress," you must realize that stress is a process, not an event. It does not just happen. It involves a trigger (cause) and a response (effect). Understanding your unique signals, triggers and responses is what learning about the stress process in you is all about. Creating a life of optimal stress in your personal "best stress zone" requires true awareness. That is mindful, careful and structured reflection regarding the stressors (triggers) in your life that are associated with what is important to you.
The Best Stress Zone Strategy involves finding the right types and amounts of stress given your unique life situation so that you can experience more calm, energy, higher levels of performance, joy and overall wellness.
These are five simple ways in which you can begin discover your "best stress zone" and reach your optimal stress level level:
- Reconsider how you define the meaning of the word "stress." Think about how your frame of reference and your pattern of thinking affect your interpretation of the events in your life. Often negative or problematic thoughts will trigger the stress response, causing repetition of stress in your life. Discover your optimal stress level and learn to live in your personal "best stress zone."
Your "best stress zone" is dynamic; it will shift as your life transitions and evolves. The Best Stress Zone Strategy involves identifying and accepting the unique stressors associated with your life's three Ps: purpose, passions and priorities. This approach to dealing with day-to-day stress allows you to accept and acknowledge co-workers, workload, commute and job uncertainty and still live your best life. You can have more resilience, energy, calm and capacity when anticipating or experiencing unavoidable demands and challenges that you now consider stressful situations. The "best stress zone" approach is based on knowing you can learn to counter the body, mind and behavioral patterns that signal the automatic triggering of responses that are stressful. Living in your "best stress zone" means that you are able to buffer and/or abort these responses with learned coping skills and tactics.
While everyone has some amount of strain or tension, you must identify what is under your control (and therefore manageable) and what just isn't.
In an ever-changing world with new stressors developing almost daily, it is important to find a healthy balance, to sort through and wear the many hats one has to wear in life, step back and take note of it, so as not to become overwhelmed. While this is recognized during the month of April, it is an equilibrium that should be achieved throughout the year.