Emotions can cause stress---stress can cause emotions! Does that make it all wrong!?
Not really! It all depends on "how long do you choose to hold on to it?"
“A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question.
Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?”
Responses ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.
She replied, "The absolute weight is really not relevant. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold the glass for a minute, that's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, you'll have to call an ambulance! In each case, it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes."
“And that’s the way it is with stress! If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won’t be able to carry on.”
She continued, “The stress and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a short while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.”
Each moment of every day, a conversation is taking place inside us that’s one of the most vital we will ever find ourselves engaged in. It’s the silent, often subconscious, and never-ending conversation of emotion-based signals. The reason this conversation is so important is that the quality of the emotional impact determines the kind of chemicals that are released into our bodies.
When we feel what we would typically call negative emotions (for instance, anger, hate, jealousy, and rage), the brain receives a signal that mirrors our feelings. Such emotions are irregular and chaotic, and the signals they send look irregular and chaotic!
If you can envision a chart of the ups and downs for the stock market on a wild and volatile day, you’ll have an idea of the kind of signals we create in our bodies in times of high emotional stress. The human body interprets this stress, and sets mechanisms into motion to help us respond appropriately.
The Fight or Flight Response
For our distant ancestors, this response would save them from an angry bear that had camped out in their cave. When they felt that the threat was gone, their emotions shifted and the elevated levels of the stress hormones returned to normal levels.
The key here is that the stress response is designed to be temporary and brief. When it kicks in, we infuse our bodies with the chemistry needed to respond quickly and powerfully to the threat. It’s all about survival. The important point is, that when such high levels of stress chemicals are present, we can become superhuman.
We’ve heard stories of the 98-pound woman successfully tilting an automobile off the ground long enough to save her child pinned beneath—and doing so without first considering if such a feat was even possible.
In other words, the body can be only in one mode or the other: fight/flight mode or healing/growth mode. Clearly, we were never meant to live day in and day out with constant stress. Yet, this is precisely the situation that many of us find ourselves in today.
In our modern world of information overload, speed dating, multiple consecutive double cappuccinos, and the often-heard complaint that life is “speeding up,” it’s inevitable that our bodies feel we’re in a constant state of never-ending stress. People who cannot find a release from this, find themselves in sustained fight-or-flight mode, with all of the consequences that come with the territory.
A quick look at an office or a classroom, or even a glance at our family members over Sunday dinner, confirms what the data suggests. It’s not surprising to find that people with the highest levels of sustained stress, are generally in the poorest health.
The rise in U.S. statistics for stress-related conditions, including heart disease and stroke, eating disorders, immune deficiencies, and some cancers, is not unusual, when we consider the relentless stress that many people experience in their daily lives.
The good news is that the same mechanism that creates and sustains our stress responses, often on a subconscious level, can also be regulated to help us relieve the stress in a healthy way—even when times are difficult. And we can do so quickly and intentionally. As with the example of how long we hold the glass of water, it is important that we actively engage to reduce the time we hold onto the negative emotions of anger, hate, etc.
When we feel a sense of well-being, the level of stress hormones in our bodies decreases, while the life-affirming chemistry of a healthy immune system with anti-aging properties increases.
Just as our brains send stress signals when we feel negative emotions; in the presence of positive emotions, such as appreciation, gratitude, compassion, and caring, the brain releases chemicals into the body that support immunity and growth.
“The truth is that stress doesn’t come from your boss, your kids, your spouse, traffic jams, health challenges, or other circumstances. It comes from your thoughts about these circumstances”. – Andrew Bernstein, author of “The Myth of Stress”.