"The message that stress is always harmful, and life is fundamentally toxic—that is, I think, a big misread on reality." (Prof. Kelly McGonigal)
As my return to work draws near, as the challenges of balancing childcare, family and professional life, start again, I can feel it, it is the elephant in the room.
It is the knowledge that stress will come back in our daily life as my husband and I start again the ballet of balancing it all, this time in four: a 5 months old, a nearly 3 year old, long days at work, nursery germs, erm, I meant nursery schools et all.
But luckily, being this my second maternity leave I think I know better and I hope we are more prepared for what`s to come, for the “house of cards” feeling that majority of parents know very well. And I know that I have been in the best possible school in these past few years, the school of life with children (if you are not a parent, just think karma and trust me :-)
So in preparation for this, beyond securing all the house help I could, I have done some reading on it. Yes. I researched the topic stress.
The month, the week and the night before each and every exam I took in university, before each test in my old beloved Liceo Scientifico, were filled with it. And yet, the more under pressure I felt, the more I knew that if I kept it under control it would help me to perform. As an adult, before every presentation, opening speech I had, I knew it was good to feel that "pressure". Yet it stressed me. I tried not to but did end up complaining about it. Was that “good” stress?
I ended up with an emergency operation when I was 19 because my stomach twisted, literally. Doctors said back then I was lucky as they could put everything back in order easily, I was just left with a scar and the knowledge that this is a very common thing to happen and it can be caused by “stress”.
The stress we experience when we see our loved ones suffer, when we lose someone, when we expect the results of a test, or even simply when our kids are sick. That can`t be surely "good" stress?
So how many types of stress are there and how can we recognize them? Stress is the lining of every day life, we need to learn to live in balance with the pressure that comes from it and that we experience every day.
What follows is an extract of one of the most interesting articles I have read about stress, my main take-away is the following:
"If you understand that what you experience as stress is the biological mechanism by which you are going to learn and grow and develop your strength, now that’s a totally different way to understand why your heart is pounding, or why you’re having trouble falling asleep at night because you’re thinking about something stressful that happened."
For a full list of my summer reading on the topic, just PM me!
“We’ve been so inundated by this belief, this mindset, and this message that stress is toxic, that stress is harmful, that you should avoid or reduce stress, that in moments of feeling stressed out, we think: ‘I shouldn’t be stressed out right now.'”
“And just like with a placebo effect, when you recognize that your body and brain are capable of responding in a way that is helpful or healing, you actually enable it to happen more effectively.”
“I was beaten over the head with the concept that stress is a toxic state, that while helpful in the short-term, has long-term effects that are damaging. This was based on a lot of animal research from Hans Selye (see below), which doesn’t really translate to the experience of being human. Ultimately, I think it was all based on a misunderstanding of, or a very narrow definition of stress in terms of what happens in your body and in your brain. I had been taught that every time you experience anything we would call stress, your body shifts into this state that is fundamentally toxic—that flight or fight survival mode, which impairs your insight or ability to make decisions, that’s toxic for your body, that increases inflammation and hormones that in turn suppress your immune system and kill brain cells. We’ve all heard that.
If you go back 10 years to look at interviews I did about stress, I was saying all those same things in magazines and newspapers.
I’ve come to realize that there are many things about that point of view that are not true. The most basic one that’s faulty is the premise that there’s only one stress response, and that every time you experience stress you’re in a toxic state. That’s fundamentally not true. The body has a whole repertoire of stress responses. Sometimes when we experience stress we’re experiencing a state that is healthy, that makes us resilient, that makes us more caring and connected, that makes us more courageous. The experience might be physically similar in some ways to stress states that we would describe as debilitating anxiety or other negative stress states, but they are not toxic. There are a lot of different ways to experience stress.”
(Prof. Kelly McGonigal, The Upside of Stress)
Full article here.