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Embracing The Unknown: How Breaking Boundaries Ignites Growth

Stress. For as long as I can remember, stress has been a constant companion in my life. As a child, stress was a dark cloud, something bad that I instinctively knew to avoid. It was the fear of failure, the sting of being teased, the anxiety of messing up a musical piece. Later on, it became the worry about how I looked or whether I was liked. And then it became the anxiety of job interviews, love, loss, and the future.

A 2019 survey revealed that most adults experience stress levels they consider unhealthy. In a world that is becoming ever more polarized, these issues have only heightened stress.

So what to do about it? Managing stress is at best a coping strategy, like bailing water from a sinking ship. 

But then I listened to a podcast about stress and pressure, and it shifted what I thought about stress…maybe it wasn’t so bad after all and actually necessary. 

Stress is an internal response to outside pressure. The outside environment isn’t something we can always control but we can change our perception of it. If we change how we respond to stress, we can harness its creative potential and lessen its negative effects. Pressure after all, is an opportunity for us to grow and learn and as Billie Jean King states it’s a privilege.

In this article, we will talk about:

  • What stress is, its impact, and misconceptions

  • How we can grow because of stress

  • Shifting our perspective to embrace stress

Unmasking Stress: What It Is and What It Isn’t

At its core, stress is a natural human response to some event or experience in our lives. It is a feeling of worry. It helps us to deal with whatever is in our lives that is causing us to feel stressed. 

Can thinking about stress as something that can help us make us feel better and be healthier? The answer is yes! 

A Harvard study tracked 30,000 adults for 8 years and asked them two questions, “How much stress have you experienced in the last year?” and “Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?”

They found that people who had experienced a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43% increased risk of dying. But, and it’s a big but so keep reading. It was only true for the people who also believed that stress is harmful for your health. I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

In her TED Talk, Kelly McGonical, a Stanford psychologist, goes on to say that in the study, the people who experienced a lot of stress but didn’t view stress as harmful had the lowest risk of dying compared to everyone in the study, including people who had little stress.

This makes believing stress is bad for you in the top 15 leading causes of death in the U.S. So, Kelly wondered if changing how we think about stress can make us healthier. 

Reframing stress as energizing and preparing our body for a challenge can make us healthier and here’s how:

Key point

When we are stressed

Results of reframing

Mental impact

Feel anxious and lack confidence.

Less stressed, less anxious and more confident.

Physical impact

Heart rate goes up and blood vessels constrict.

Heart rate goes up but vessels stay relaxed which looks like what people experience when they feel joy and courage.

Social connection

Oxytocin (a stress hormone) is released which acts to protect and strengthen our heart.

Promotes compassion, caring, resilience and encourages us to seek support.

When we reach out to others when we are stressed and when we help others, more oxytocin is released. Stress can help us to take action, to learn and grow, to have empathy and connect with others.

The Growth Potential of Stress

The kind of stress we can choose to avoid is actually the kind that is most likely to lead to beneficial effects. Kelly McGonical

Although some stress we can’t avoid, such as illness, loss, or injury, the stress we choose to avoid could actually benefit us. Stress ultimately pushes us out of our comfort zone. It forces us to face our challenges. Facing challenges allows us to overcome, to learn about ourselves and to grow.

Avoiding stress usually backfires according to Kelly McGonical. This is because when we choose to avoid a challenging situation rather than engage with it, we are telling ourselves that we are not capable of handling the situation. This can lead to us feeling paralyzed, isolated and overwhelmed. 

When we face a challenging situation, we become stronger. We build resilience, confidence and the ability to work through challenges.

Challenges also help us to grow by:

  1. Helping us learn more about ourselves

  2. Helping us to appreciate what we have that we maybe took for granted before

  3. Allowing us to wake up and notice all the good things that are happening that we weren’t paying attention to

  4. Being an opportunity for learn, grow, and get better

  5. Helping us understand our true feelings and express them honestly

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. Nelson Mandela

Facing challenges helps us to grow, build resilience, to appreciate what we have, and to discover who we are.

Thriving Under Pressure: Real-Life Stories of Growth Through Stress

Malala Yousafzai: After surviving a Taliban assassination attempt for advocating girls' education in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai continued her activism despite ongoing threats. She became the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate at 17, using stress and adversity to become a global advocate for education and girls' rights.

Nelson Mandela: Despite spending 27 years in prison during South Africa's apartheid era, Nelson Mandela emerged with a vision of reconciliation and forgiveness. By embracing the stress of  leading a deeply divided nation towards unity, he became the country's first black president.

Oprah Winfrey: Oprah Winfrey overcame a challenging childhood of poverty and abuse to become a powerful media personality. Facing professional challenges and public scrutiny, she consistently used these pressures for self-reflection and growth, becoming a symbol of resilience and empowerment.

Billie Jean King: Tennis legend and gender equality advocate Billie Jean King faced immense pressure both on and off the court. Competing in the famous "Battle of the Sexes" match and fighting for women's rights in sports, she co-founded the Women's Tennis Association and the Women's Sports Foundation, inspiring generations with her resilience and determination to make a difference.

Embracing Stress: Shifting Perspectives

Now that we know that embracing stress is better for us than avoiding stress, let’s talk about how we can shift our perspective to embrace stress.

To start with, let’s just clarify that when we talk about embracing stress, it doesn’t mean to deny the situation or how we feel. Instead, it’s about viewing stress in the following way:

  1. Viewing our body’s stress response as helpful

  2. Viewing ourselves as capable of dealing with the situation

  3. Viewing stress as something everyone deals with, not something that proves how messed up our life is

Here are three steps from the Harvard Business Review and that we can take to start to shift our perspective of stress.



Practical Tips

Step 1: See It (Acknowledge and practice acceptance)

Neuroscience research shows that acknowledging stress shifts brain activity from reactive to more conscious thinking, helping stress management.

  • Accept the Situation: Know that some things are not up to you and it's okay to let them go.

  • Accept Your Feelings: It's okay to feel sad or mad, and talking to someone can help you feel better.

  • Grieve Your Losses: When you lose something important, it's good to be sad so you can start to feel better later.

Step 2: Own It (Recognize what matters and reach out to others)

Feeling stressed shows that something is important to us, and remembering that challenges help us grow can make it easier to handle them.

  • Prioritize Relationships: Spend time with family and friends to feel happy and less stressed.

  • Avoid Negative Influences: Be around people who make you feel good rather than those that make you feel stressed.

  • Expand Your Social Network: Build new friendships and strengthen your support system.

Step 3: Use It (Harness stress for growth and invest in self-care)

Our body’s stress response can boost our energy, alertness, and focus, helping us grow stronger and healthier by meeting challenges head-on.

  • Invest in Self-Care: Exercise regularly, practice meditation, improve sleep, maintain a healthy diet, and manage stress levels.

  • Find Meaning and Purpose: Engage in hobbies, help others, celebrate small wins, and express gratitude.

  • Stay Grounded: Pursue activities that bring joy and satisfaction to keep problems in perspective.

Shifting our perspective takes time and effort so it’s important to be kind to ourselves. One tool that can help us practice patience, kindness, and to help shift our perspective is meditation

Meditation can help to uncover the root cause of our stress and through self-reflection let it go. This means that through meditation we can actually change our thinking patterns and habits.

Our mind is formed from our experiences and the experiences inherited from our parents. These thoughts shape our behaviors, actions, habits and, ultimately, our destiny. We are literally pre-programmed and act, or rather react, according to our programming. Through meditation, we can change our programming and shift our perspective.

Moving Forward For A Brighter Future

Stress can actually help us grow and become stronger. By understanding what stress is and realizing that it's normal, we can change how we see it. Instead of thinking it's all bad, we can see it as a chance to learn and become better. When we do that, we can handle tough times better and even find new things about ourselves. 

If you’re wondering how to start, we have a monthly meditation class that will help to embrace stress and ignite growth. This class will help to cultivate resilience and confidence, empowering you to face challenges head-on. . The best time to start is now, so let’s build our best life!

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