I believe Kelly McGonigal has hit on a major point as far as the key to our happiness in life in a lecture she gave regarding the stress in our lives: in certain amounts and cases stress can be positive. Think, for example, of chocolate or alcohol. Both are bad for you in copious amounts yet a piece of chocolate, glass of wine, or a bottle of beer a few times a week is beneficial for you. These, among many other items, prompt the cleaning of your system. It is also kind of like using SeaFoam in your tank after you do an oil change. Oil cleaners like this help improve the performance of your engine by lubricating and cleaning the inner passageways, fuel injectors, valves, etc.
“It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat.”
“Tower” by Kiri Ramdeo
When you think about it the effects that stress has on you are similar to exercise – it exercises a most essential muscle in your body: the heart. When we comment that someone is very inspired or driven we say they have a lot of heart – that they are strong. Strength is built from trials taken and lessons learned over time. No heart ever became strong from its system sitting around doing nothing.
“Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others…your stress response has a built in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.”
There are more people than you realize willing to provide you with help. It is through continual display of appreciation, consideration, advice, and action that contribute to building trust and respect in a great friendship. Among you on this planet are billions of potential friends – no, I am not talking about the add-you-on-facebook-and-like-your-posts friends. I am talking about friends who encourage your strength and who you take turns with to lift each other up. That said, know that it is okay to ask for help. It is okay to say, “I cannot do this alone. Please help me.” While pushing through a struggle on your own is incredibly admirable it may at times be necessary to ask for help in order to take care of you. In this you are not weak.
“…your stress response has a built in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.”
Resilience. Built up over time from becoming stronger, bouncing back, learning to outlast your past self. A great example of this is a particular Thoroughbred jockey, Russell Avery Baze. I stumbled across an article written about him, “Born to Ride,” during the period when I was recovering from my car accident. Breaking it down to the basic fact that Russell is a horseman, he is an amazingly durable rider. I say this because he has broken his cervical spine, pelvis, tailbone and collarbone, and suffers compression fractures in his back and neck. Russell receives periodic injections of cortisone to treat the resulting discomfort that remains with him for over 35 years. Rather than complain over every bit he accepts the aches and treatments as part of a “fulfilling career” as it is worth “every throb and spasm.”
“…we know from other research that healthy stress hormone patterns may protect against the development of physical and mental health problems.” — Patricia Pendry Ph.D.
“Just Horsing Around”
Doing something that makes you happy lowers the overall production of the stress hormone. This does not have to be treated only in adults – it can start with children or in adolescence. Neither does human interaction have to the be the only coping mechanism for those of the shyer variety – you can turn to animals. Take for example this article: “Horsing Around in Childhood Really Can Change Your Life” by Fran Jurga. The article follows a study that compares the cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in two groups of randomly selected students. In one group of students researchers evaluated their cortisol levels before and after working with horses by sampling saliva. The other group did not work with horses and were not given a particular activity to relieve stress. In the group that did work with horses their cortisol levels were significantly lower. Interactions with other humans and animals have been proven to increase compassion, understanding, social-esteem, and self confidence. I very strongly believe in this. How? I’ve seen it.
Kids and Horses
“If everybody was as happy with their job as I am with mine, it’d be a great world.”
I know I have said this before but it permeates my life and every step I take – every hardship I suffer and every amazement I enjoy pursuing art, writing, and horses: No one said it would be easy, we only said it would be worth it. Yes, we glare and curse at this, shake our fists at how easy it looks. Most people giving this advice have either made the climb or are still making the it. They know the world will knock you on your butt. In the end we have essentially two options: just lie there, or get back up.
“Chasing meaning is better for your life than trying to avoid discomfort… [so] go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.” — Kelly McGonigal