I was walking up to the check-out counter yesterday at the grocery store, and I was glancing at the magazines. There were your typical tabloids and recipe guides, but then I saw one with a bright yellow cover that caught my eye. Right there on the cover, was a yellow emoji face, and in big bold letters, it said: “How to Beat Stress.” It was a great cover design to catch the eye of anyone walking passed it, but I started to ask myself, “Why are we always trying to beat this inevitable part of life that does nothing but make us stronger?”
Recently, I finished an amazing New York Times Bestseller by Angela Duckworth called Grit, and now I’m reading another book by Dr. Carol Dweck called Mindset. These are two amazing psychologists who study the psychology of success. So, when I saw that magazine cover, I started thinking about how the majority of us are thinking about stress in the completely wrong way.
The Best and Worst Year of My Life
2019 was a mother fucker of a year for me. Sorry for the rough language, but I can’t think of any other way to describe it. This year brought me challenges that I never could have imagined having to face in my entire life. The only thing I can compare this year to is my first year of sobriety, which was the hardest year I’ve ever been through. When you’re a drug addict like me, staying clean for even a few hours is tough, so staying sober for an entire year seemed impossible. I don’t think this year was harder than that first year sober, but they’re definitely neck and neck.
Something that kept me going through both that first year as well as this year was knowing that without a doubt I was going to come out the other side stronger and wiser.
You’ve probably been in the same situation that I’ve been in countless times where it seems like everything is against you and that you’re incapable of handling any more of it. Think about how many times you’ve said that throughout your life, and yet, you’re right here. Why? Because like me, you’re a survivor, and you don’t give up and that stress made you stronger.
Not only that, but you and I have a unique gift that many people don’t have. That gift is that we lived to tell the story about how we got through it. That’s a priceless asset that doesn’t get nearly enough credit. You’re a beacon of hope to each and every person out there who is thinking what you’ve thought many times before when they tell themselves, “This is too much. I can’t get through this.”
Reframing How We Think of Stress
Whether you’re in great shape or terrible shape, you know the basics of how fitness works. It’s not rocket science. The two main types of fitness are cardio and weight training. One involves strengthening your cardiovascular system, and the other one involves strengthening and toning your muscles.
You know what each of these has in common? Stress.
Like I said, it’s not that complicated. If you want to get stronger and build your muscles, you work out those muscles. If you start at the gym lifting 25-pound weights, it eventually gets easier, and then you move up to 35-pound weights and so on. Maybe you started on the treadmill with a brisk walk, and then eventually you started jogging. It was harder to breathe when you started jogging, but it got easier, and now you can do little bursts of sprints.
How does all this happen? Stress.
No fitness plan on earth will work unless you’re putting stress on your muscles, tendons, heart, lungs and all of the other badass parts of your body. So, why the hell are we trying to “beat stress” when it comes to strengthening our mind?
How on earth are we ever supposed to get stronger mentally if we keep trying to beat stress? That’s like going to the gym and instead of moving up from a 25-pound weight to a 35-pound weight, you started moving backward because you want to “beat the stress” it’s putting on your muscles.
Sounds pretty ridiculous when we think about it like that, right?
Don’t Beat Stress. Manage it.
Just like with your body, if you push yourself too hard, your body will start to fail. If you’re not mindful of how you’re working out, you can injure yourself, and it’s the same thing with stress. We don’t jump into things that we can’t handle, but we push ourselves because we know it’s making us stronger.
The way we start doing this is by developing new coping skills because anyone who thinks stress will never be a factor in their life is running a fool’s errand. Trying to completely eliminate stress from your life is like trying to fight the waves of the ocean. Those waves are coming no matter what. Sometimes they’re chill, and other times they’re going to knock you on your ass if you’re not paying attention and ready for them.
We strengthen our ability to manage stress with whatever methods work for us, and there’s an endless amount of them. Meditation is one of my favorite methods because it’s free, and it’s scientifically proven to strengthen our prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for emotional regulation.
Yes, it’s true that stress is one of the biggest killers in the world today because it leads to an increase in the hormone cortisol, which can trigger anxiety and put our heart under too much stress. Cortisol comes from our survival center of the brain, the amygdala, but there’s a way to take control of how much stress you can manage, and that’s through meditation.
The National Institute of Health has plenty of published studies that show how a regular meditation practice helps to make the amygdala calm the hell down. Even if you take 5-minutes of your day, each day, you’ll begin seeing the benefits of meditation and how it helps you manage stress. And, quick spoiler alert, all of those magazines and articles talking about “beating stress” are really talking about managing it. I think it’s a disservice to talk about beating stress because we’re never going to beat it, but we can manage the hell out of it.
The other best option for managing stress is to get your ass a good therapist. One of the beautiful things about therapists is that they don’t teach you how to run away from your problems. They teach you how to manage your issues through a variety of different therapeutic methods. My suggestion is to find a therapist who is familiar with a few different types of therapies, so you can find the best one for you.
I’m fortunate that I have a dope therapist who is well-rounded when it comes to therapeutic methods. We can do Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to challenge my false beliefs and begin reframing them. Sometimes we dive into Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which includes a lot of mindfulness meditation practices that focus on regulating emotions. Recently, she’s been helping me with Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) that helps me look at my situations rationally.
I like REBT because it’s all about a growth mindset and knowing we can handle more than we think we can. For example, when our mind says, “I can’t handle this situation,” we use REBT to look at that thought and say, “If this situation doesn’t work out, it’ll suck, but I’ll get through it.”
So, quit trying to beat stress. Each time you experience stress, remember that you’re strengthening a muscle. Instead of a physical muscle, you’re strengthening your resilience. Every time you deal with your stress in a healthy way, you’re getting stronger. And eventually, you’re going to be unphased when stress comes your way.