Life is challenging, with all of the responsibilities, decisions, and choices.
And sometimes, the demands of your life will push you to the very edge of your ability to keep it all together.
But the truth is, you tend to experience negativity, worry, and frustration more than you’d like to admit.
Even when you’re not facing particularly trying situations.
You know that some people can meet every challenge with confidence, and even delight.
So, understanding why some people seem to thrive when dealing even with difficult situations while you struggle to manage the day to day could be life-changing.
What if it’s a simple matter of choice? What if changing one small thing about the way you think, could make a big positive difference in the way you experience even the most challenging aspects of your life?
Welcome to Simple Yoga Life, a weekly show about making the wisdom and practices of yoga part of your routine so that you can be more present, calm, and confident every single day with ease. I’m your host, Stephannie Weikert. I’m a Certified Yoga Therapist and creator of the online programs Shift Happens with Yoga + Make Peace with Stress. If you’re seeing this online, sign-up to get weekly guidance about making big, positive changes in your life in small, surprisingly simple steps.
The way you think about stress is the determining factor in how you experience your life.
In 1998, The University of Wisconsin initiated a study of 30K adult Americans.
They asked them 2 questions:
1. Do you experience low, moderate, or high levels of stress in your daily life? And
2. Do you believe stress is bad for your health?
For the next 8 years, the researchers tracked the participants to see who died and what they found was that those who experienced high levels of stress had a 43% increased rate of premature death.
But only if they believed stress was bad for them.
In fact, participants with the lowest death rates were NOT those with moderate or even low levels of stress, but those with high levels of daily stress that simply did NOT believe that stress was bad for their health.
It may be hard to believe that a small shift in thinking has such a dramatic effect on your health, but that’s exactly what researchers at Harvard University found.
They conducted a follow-up experiment where participant’s hearts were monitored while they were put in stressful situations.
Those that believed stress was bad for their health experienced an increased heart rate and constriction of the arteries, a tell-tale part of the stress response and why stress is associated with heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.
But here’s where it gets interesting, the participants who believed that their stress response is simply a tool to help them through a challenging situation, not a problem or detriment, also had increased heart rates, but instead of a constriction of the arteries, their blood vessels relaxed and expanded.
This is a key physiological indicator of experiencing joy. Yes, joy.
So by your belief, you can choose to experience stress—or joy.
The importance of this cannot be overstated when you consider that more than 60 million American adults are taking prescription medications for anxiety and depression, which are often a result of chronic stress.
And among the common side effects of these medications like drowsiness, lack of energy, confusion, insomnia, agitation, and irritability, are anxiety and depression!
Whether you’re taking pills or not, your stress coping mechanism may really be a form of escape or distraction.
Like mindlessly scrolling social media, zoning out in front of the tv or Netflix, drinking to take the edge off, pushing yourself too hard at the gym, frantically cleaning and organizing, or even picking a fight with someone at home. And guess what?
The side effects of these coping mechanisms can be drowsiness, lack of energy, confusion, insomnia, irritability and anxiety and depression.
There is a better way.
When you change your mind about stress, you change your body’s response.
Like the placebo effect, when someone believes they’re getting a beneficial medication or treatment, their mind thinks healing will occur and the body creates the conditions to make that happen.
Because they haven’t actually received medication or treatment, the benefit is attributed to the person’s belief.
So if you think that stress is helpful, your body uses the effects of the stress response, like an increased heart rate, in a way that feels exhilarating.
But this works the other way too, when you believe stress is bad for you, it feels distressing and directly affects how the mind interprets the circumstance.
You might think that a challenge is more than you can handle, or focus only on possible negative outcomes, or worry about a situation that’s not an issue.
And in response, your body switches into survival mode.
And here’s where your thinking becomes a big problem.
When you believe stress is bad for your health, and your mind and body switch into survival mode, instead of being supported by and using the effects of the stress response to your advantage, which allows it to then switch off, your stress response stays on.
Which is distressing to the body and directly affects how the mind interprets circumstances.
This is when you get stuck in a cycle of chronic stress.
Your nervous system is either in the fight or flight stress response or in the rest and repair, relaxation response.
It’s your thinking that toggles the switch. You, by your ability to change your perception of stress, have the ability to control your physiology.
To choose to experience pleasure, happiness, and joy instead of overwhelm, fear, and stress.
So how do you change your mind about stress?
There are 3 specific practices from yoga philosophy that are a potent yet surprisingly simple method for shifting your belief about stress from being detrimental to beneficial.
When used together as a process, these 3 steps not only help you shift the stress response in a moment of challenge but can help you break the cycle of chronic stress so that your relaxation response can strengthen.
The first step is self-study.
Self-study is paying attention to your thinking and behavior not to judge or scold yourself but to understand what’s happening within you.
It’s noticing when a situation initiates the stress response and observing your reaction to the effects of the stress response.
For example, say you’re running late for work and traffic is heavy.
As you’re getting stuck in the gridlock, you start to feel upset and tense, and you notice your breathing changes.
And you become aware of the state of your mind: your thinking about walking into work late, you feel irritated, and notice anger starting to build.
The light you’re just about to get through turns yellow, the car in front of you stops and you shift into full-on rage.
You scream at the other driver, hit the steering wheel and cursing and stewing, you pick up your phone and scroll mindlessly through your newsfeed without really even looking at anything.
Sound familiar? There’s no judgment, in fact, finding yourself in this situation is good news.
The second step is surrender.
Surrender is the willingness to accept life as it is in any given moment.
To stop fighting and avoiding reality and instead to open to the opportunity you have to choose your thinking deliberately.
So, it’s taking you much longer to get to work than you anticipated and you’re already late.
You start to feel upset and notice yourself getting tense.
At that moment, the moment of noticing the stress response starts to build, you have the opportunity to change your mind about what’s happening.
The fact is, in this example, losing your cool in your car by yourself is not going to get you to work any faster.
Cursing the traffic light will not make it turn green.
Being angry at the driver in front of you is only hurting you. Instead of feeling completely overwhelmed by your stress response, what if you interpreted it as a signal to stretch and relax your shoulders, or take some slow deep breaths, or be grateful that you have a quiet moment to yourself?
What if you interpret your stress response as an opportunity to reset your inner experience?
This is 100% possible, but only if you. choose. to. do. it.
The final step is intention setting.
Intention setting is being clear about what’s important to you.
Determining how you want to feel, welcoming and working on cultivating that inner experience. Instead of letting your stress response send you into a tailspin, you’ve opened to the opportunity to change your thinking.
So, traffic is bad, and you’re going to be late for work.
How would you like to show up for that?
Do you want to walk in frazzled and making a bunch of excuses?
What could you do that you would be proud of?
Imagine you arrived calm and gracious, and instead of apologizing from an attitude of blaming yourself, you thanked your coworkers for their patience and understanding.
How would that feel different?
Once you’ve noticed your stress response, and opened to the opportunity it’s offering to deliberately choose your thoughts, you welcome a new way.
You choose to want something different for yourself and practice being that change at that moment.
This is how you change your mind about stress and, quite frankly, this is how you change your life from chronically stressed, overwhelmed, worried, exhausted, and stuck to present, calm, and confident. It really is your choice.
So thank you for watching this episode Simple Yoga Life, I hope I’ve inspired you to begin making simple yoga part of your routine.
Let me know in the comments below what you would like to get out of simple yoga in your life by finishing the sentence:
If I could just feel more ___ .
And I’m sure you know someone who could benefit from feeling more present, calm, and confident every day, please share this video with her.
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A rising tide lifts all boats, so everything you do to make positive changes in your life truly does elevate us all.