You’ve heard of good stress and bad stress. Distress is the one most people are referring to when they say they are “stressed out”. That is bad stress, and is often created by situations we can not control or by unknown outcomes. The death of a loved one, the loss of a job – those are common forms of distress. Eustress, however, is the good stress that we put our bodies through when we exercise. Eustress prepares us to better handle distress. All forms of distress create a standard stress response in our bodies.
There are many healthy ways of dealing with distress. One very effective way is to exercise daily. Exercise releases feel good endorphins that give us that high and light feeling we have afterward. Eustress puts our bodies into a simulation of the stress response. Initially our bodies think that they are under distress, but adjust accordingly as all of our systems start to normalize.
Another healthy way of dealing with distress is to avoid the unnecessary stressors in your life. If traffic is really stressful for you, look into other ways of transportation. Find ways to work at home, or leave earlier and give yourself time to exercise before work or decompress at a coffee shop. If you find yourself stressed financially, seek some help. There are many online resources to help deal with money management. Just dealing with the unknowns of money can be a huge relief. If the stress you feel is due to the death of a loved one or personal illness, it can be very difficult to manage.
There are many not so healthy ways of dealing with stress. I would say this is the way that most people cope. We all do it in some way, but to different extents. Instead of training our minds to respond to stress in a healthy way, we often spiral into thoughts and ruminate on things we can not control. We blame, yell, act out, over eat, drink, take pills, what have you. Though these acts may feel good at the time, they are not helping relieve the stress. In fact, they are creating more of it. These are unhealthy and ineffective attempts to manage stress.
I will give you a very personal story with the hope that my experience can help you better manage your situation.
My mother died on the morning Saturday May 28, 2011. She was exactly 58 1/2 years young. She died from complications due to alcohol and prescription drug abuse. I sat alone with her after they took her off life support. She took her last breaths as I washed her face, hands and feet that heartbreaking night at John Muir. I was so mad at her, and so damn sad at the same time. How could she devalue her life and her body like this? Since I was small she had issues with substances, and though I knew her childhood was a true nightmare, I still felt angry. I felt the stress of the world was upon me. I felt totally out of control and was taking a step into an unknown world, a world without my mom. This was bad stress in its purest form. I wanted to turn to WINE! How typical human is that?!
I was running my own business and was not prepared to take time off because it all happened so fast. And I had no time to be a wino. Besides, I knew that the best thing for me was be around healthy people who cared for their bodies – my clients. I knew I had to put on my game face and be there for us. It took TREMENDOUS courage and strength that I pulled from every area of my life. The way I dealt with it was one step at a time.
I became more grateful for my own health with every step. I grew stronger at every class and in every one of my own workouts. I appreciated the efforts of my clients and saw their value through a new lens. Through my grief for mom, I found energy to fuel a passion for life. The stress of not having mom was still there. There were countless workouts I did alone while letting the tears flow, but I never quit. The stress would rise and fall as time went on, but it did become more manageable. It started to even out. The crying sessions were shorter and less intense. Still I hurt, but I had found power in my struggle. I found a positive direction to put that energy toward. I wasn’t as angry anymore. But I was still pissed. I turned to more meditative practices to understand the feelings under my feelings. Weird stuff would go through my mind at even weirder times. I knew I needed to peel back some layers and look deeper.
Through mindful meditation and yoga I began to see that I had gotten so used to worrying about my mom that I had let my own issues go unchecked. Yeah, that was happening pretty much my whole life. I started to realize that much of my own stress was not from mom, but from my own projections about what she should have done better. So then I went further and thought maybe I should do some things better myself. At that moment I realized I couldn’t control what mom did, so why was I letting that stress me out? It was a habit that needed changing. I asked myself to stop blaming her for my stress. I looked deeper and started to make some little changes that made a big difference.
The physiological response our bodies have in reaction to stress is something that is built into our genetics called the fight or flight. Our bodies don’t know the difference between mom dying or being chased by a predator – regardless of the trigger, the physiological response to all stressors is the same. Beyond that initial response there are many ways we can train our minds to better deal with the stress, and in turn help our bodies realize that we aren’t in imminent danger. We can stop the cycle.
What we have to do is look hard and not simply react with unhealthy coping mechanisms. We have to be honest with ourselves. That is not the easy way out by any means. We must do the tough, mindful work and find the deep triggers to our stress. Then, we either try to avoid them (ie: take BART to work) or rethink the way we react to them. Clearly the death of a loved one is stressful but it can be dealt with in a healthy way if given time and effort. We can take a really crappy circumstance and become better for having actually dealt with it. It is possible.
Eustress is a way of training the prefrontal cortex to deal with distress. Most people don’t want to put themselves through any kind of stress, but this is a recipe for disaster. If the brain is not practiced at dealing with stress, it over reacts to all stress. We want to train our brains with eustress so that the pre frontal cortex can step in and evaluate how vital a stressor is. This part of the brain can be trained to stop the cycle. If we practice mindfully during stress, we become capable of separating ourselves from the stressor. At that point we gain control again. We start to cope with eustress and distress more efficiently. At the time of my mothers death I didn’t know this, I found my way through the dark by accident. The mind body spirit connection is truly beautiful.
I hope my story helps you when you feel like life is overwhelming you. It was not easy to write this, and recounting the death of my mom is definitely a form of eustress for me. I hope that you can glean even a little bit of light from the dark trials I went through with my mom. I hope you see the beauty of your mind, your body and your spirit. I hope you learn to appreciate the fact that you care so much about the things that really matter in life – you care so much that you are willing to stress out about them! Now the question is do you care enough about your life to put in the effort and change how you deal with daily stress? Please allow yourself that gift.
To your health, Coach Michelle
Gumsaba Boot Camp Class schedule Wednesday 3/19/14
5:30AM Womens only Sunrise class – Coach Karen – 6 Pack Attack!
5:30AM Sunrise Danville Mens only class – Coach Allen
6AM Sunup Moraga Womens only Class – Coach Briana – AMRAP vs TABATA + Core
8:15AM Sunrise Moraga Womens only Class – Coach Briana – AMRAP vs TABATA + Core
9AM Sunshine Walnut Creek Womens only class – Coach Michelle –
11:30PM Cytosport Boot camp Lite Benicia – Coach Michelle (private class) TRX Partner Interval Training
12:30PM Cytosport Boot camp Benicia – Coach Michelle (private class) TRX Non Stop + Cardio
4PM Cytosport Yoga Benicia – Coach Matt (private class)
Gumsaba Boot Camp Class schedule Thursday 3/20/14
5:30AM Sunrise Danville Womens only class – Coach Briana – Cardio Bootie Call
5:30AM Sunrise Danville Mens only class – Coach Allen
6AM Sunup Walnut Creek Co-Ed class – Coach Jentry – AMRAP vs TABATA + Core
9AM Sunshine Walnut Creek Womens only class – Coach Briana – Cardio Bootie Call
10:30 Sunshine Walnut Creek Co-Ed Yoga – Coach Michelle