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By Brianna Wiest
Relaxation doesn’t cure stress in the same way that pleasure does not cure pain. Often, what we think of to be relaxing is actually just our “flight” responses activating, and the positive feeling that’s created is freedom, not ease. Relaxation is important – but it doesn’t actually reduce our stress levels in the long-term, and we wouldn’t want it to anyway.
The truth is that stress serves us. On a physiological level, stress responses keep us alive, which is obvious. But research is emerging that says stress can actually increase immunity, productivity and creativity. The catch is that we have to accept it and work with it, rather than try to eliminate it.
Our stress epidemic has little to do with how much stress we experience, and almost everything to do with the fact that we don’t know how to cope.
So here are a few ideas to get you started, small ways you can integrate said coping skills into your daily life. It may not be comfortable at first, but it’s crucial in the long-term.
1. When you feel so busy you don’t know how you’ll get anything done, stop and help someone else for a few minutes.
By donating even just a few moments of time to someone else, we actually create the feeling as though we have a lot of it to give. In reality, you’ll only have lost 5-10 minutes, but you’ll return with a shifted “can do” attitude. Likewise: if you’re having financial worries, donate $20 to something you care about. It has the same effect.
2. Start behaving as though your worst case scenarios have already come true.
With an almost endless narrative of how important positive thinking is, we seldom here about the benefit (if not cruciality) of negative thinking. For example, if your worst fear is losing a job, get your résumé together, network a little bit, be mindful to put a little more money in savings. Immediately, the fear will begin to dissolve, not because you’ve convinced yourself it won’t happen, but that you’ll be able to respond if it does.
3. Don’t actually try to relax.
In a 2013 study, a group of people were coached to think that their heart racing in a high-intensity situation indicated they were doing a good job. They reported feeling less anxious and physically had fewer signs of cardiovascular stress afterwards, particularly in contrast to the other group, who was coached to “try to relax.” It showed that it’s more important to engage with your responses in a healthy way than try to deny them.
4. Learn the art of giving the hell up.
We’re so frequently coached on how to “never give up!” that we have completely bypassed the fact that many times, letting go isn’t just healthy, it’s completely necessary. The work will never end. You’ll finish one project and then there will be another. You’ll complete one chore and then you’ll have to do it again. You’ll get your inbox down to 0 and then it will fill up again. The work will never end, but your life will – may that be your motivation to step away even though things feel less than perfect, or incomplete.