Stress Changes Us

You have probably noticed some things feel off. Whether it’s a muscle, a relationship, or the taste of food. Your body is giving you feedback. Sometimes the feedback is as small as an eyelash in your eye. A lash that felt more like a small branch, but you removed it in a few seconds. Your internal feedback systems prompted you to blink more, touch your eye, something. Other times, it’s a dull ache in your back that takes stretching a couple times a day, adjustments, a different sleep posture and stronger core muscles. Over 12 weeks you noticed relief. Maybe that dull ache led to habits - ones you love and protect. Maybe that dull ache is back. The core conditioning and stretching was replaced with work. Feedback (external) is hard to listen to when it’s your boss telling you that “ABC” was good, but not good enough. And it’s hard to listen to when it’s internal stress or pain. Both create what’s known in social science and physics as resistance. Think of resistance like a fight to stay the same, even if change sounds good. When I think of resistance, I imagine a 93 year old woman living in her home of the last 40 years. She knows going out to pick the lemons from her big, lush lemon tree is no longer the best idea, her balance is not what it once was, she has already broken an arm and a wrist. But, she does it anyway. Forms of resistance vary widely and the stages of change are closely connected, both deserve a deeper look, which I will do in the January 12 blog. The fight to stay the same, even if it means the stress or pain again, is a topic worth diving into daily because we love routine. We guard it, even when we say we want to replace it. If you are a Member, you have already heard us talk about the Seven Threads of Repair. If you’re not a Space Before Change Member yet, no sweat. Resistance, whether subconscious, unconscious or conscious responds to Repair, like clay in the potter’s hands. We will talk about 8 ways stress changes us and what you can do today. Stress (a lash, an ache, a broken arm) is just feedback.

Mind | Concentration, memory and creativity are impaired when stress is unchecked, minimized or exacerbated for an extended period of time. Adrenaline (epinephrine) helps us concentrate and move in stressful events. When that stress becomes intrusive, untreated, the body is primed to preserve life. So, it resorts to pick and choose what functions it can do best and which functions get the leftovers. Chronic stress or screen stress, reduce life-sparing forces like critical thought, intuition and self-respect because adrenaline prompts short term urgent thought, limiting abstract, big picture or values-based ideas. Fear does not propel our best decisions. Repair does.

Skin | Stress releases cortisol, which impacts hormonal imbalance for men and women. The excess cortisol leads to dry skin. Adrenaline is redirected to major muscle groups when we are in extreme stress, which drives the blood away from the skin, that means less circulation of oxygen and nutrition, less protection and prevention. Skin acts as a barrier, we need it promotes an invaluable immune response. Stress is connected to acne, wrinkles, cold sores and slower healing.

Mood | Feeling dull or excited is not just a product of external forces like homework or Netflix. Mood is the result of recurring feelings and the beliefs associated. Repair gives stress a voice, rather than letting it bulldoze and change us in ways we did not expect. No magic pills for mood. A compassionate approach is Repair, across Mindfulness, Chemistry and Belonging/Connection.

Sleep | We need 8 hours. Give or take an hour, we need this restorative time. Skimping means you stress or pain in some other part of life. It’s not something we can gamble with, sleep is protecting our best thinking, best relationships, best health, best creativity, best self.

Instincts | Your first or second idea, or better stated your first or second reaction or response.  A response is generally more thought out than a reaction. A reaction is usually based on emotion or short term payoffs. Like busying yourself with ladders and lemon picking because it’s what you have always done. Instincts, revealed in the stress response, include the values and needs we may not readily identify. If you notice your instincts are more and more primitive (food, shelter, air, sex, water), there’s a good chance My 42 and maybe an outside resource can help add color and dimension. Your instincts are naturally to avoid stress or pain, or to resist because the familiar seems safer than the unfamiliar. But stress is a powerful messenger. Lots of ways to get the lemons.

Appetite | When things feel off, our body’s systems ensure the right micro and macro level changes in our system, from metabolism to pH to glucose storage. We are always in a state of change to preserve life! Repair hints at the idea that we need to take a deeper look, noticing eating patterns. Chronically elevated hormones suppress the digestive system, thus, appetite decreases. In contrast, large doses of cortisol stimulate feelings of hunger, which we naturally want to satisfy, even though it’s our body’s appetite for Repair, not for more food.

Organs | Stress oxidizes our insides because of free radicals. One easy solution is to look at your Vitamin C intake. But, an idea that acknowledges your body and mind as the phenomena that they are, is to get a sense of your breath. The patterns of our shallow or deep breathing have a lot to do with our perception of urgency or emergency, which fire a reaction or resistance. Breath work helps us form a response that promotes Repair, aligning values and needs, while giving compassionate attention to the body’s feedback and constant change. This compassion will lead to less free radicals and a better sense of empowered decision making.

Productivity | Contrary to the popular habit of looking busy, productivity requires differentiation. Knowing what is urgent, what is important and what aligns with our values, priorities and habits of Repair. The distinction requires some tuning and kindness. Productivity has a good deal to do with the idea of “paying yourself first.” The first Thread of Repair: we perform better, appreciate our potential, triage and execute when we practice self-regard. Giving everything to others first leads to drugs.

If there are lemons waiting for you today, consider the data first. What feedback has your body given you? Repair aligns you with other options. It says hello to resistance, thanks it for stopping by, but moves on to try something new, something that includes self-compassion. The habits we are born to love are birthed from stress or pain. Feedback is a built in protective agent, create the space to hear it, feel it. Compassion requires space, not productivity.

It’s a New Year, it’s the same you, which is a good thing. For any of us, we do not need to be a different “me” in 2019. What we need is to allow space for the “repairing me.” Be careful - anyone who tells you to be a different you is way out of line and coming from a place of judgement, not Repair. That is a shame based approach that gives too little attention to human dignity. If we tune into the feedback, we can incorporate just one new Thread of Repair. Stress helps us adapt and while it seems inconvenient, things do not feel off for long, soon you’ve mastered the habit that you were born to love!

Britten Devereux