How To Embrace Stress

All through nutrition school one of the most prevalent therapies is reduce stress, reduce stress, reduce stress. As adults we learn many ways to live a stress-free life. Should we be running from stress? I know that stress can trigger the fight or flight syndrome. It causes our bodies to shunt parasympathic pathways (rest and digest) and amps up the sympathetic system (fight or flight). Stress increases the stress hormone cortisol. Is stress bad? Or are our perceived ideas about stress bad?

I’m currently reading Kelly McGonigal’s The Upside of Stress and it has me asking a lot of new questions. I love a book that makes me question what I know, that challenges me to see a perceived concept in a new light. Do I want to embrace stress? Yes. In fact a lot of the health & wellness practices that I’ve implemented into my life the past few years have trained me to do just that… embrace stress. And here I thought I was trying to reduce it.

In her book, McGonigal talks about the Threat Stress Response and the Challenge Stress Response. I encourage you to read it to understand the whole concept. What I took away was this:

  • The Threat Stress Response is “bad”, or maybe I should say it’s not as useful. It causes us to feel threatened and avoid connection.
  • The Challenge Stress Response is “good”, it allows us to grow and connect with others.

I use quotations around good and bad as I hate labelling things into these categories, but for simplicity’s sake, they will do. The Challenge Stress Response allows us to rise to the challenge, to overcome obstacles, and to grow as a human being. I thought about Brene Brown’s work often when learning this concept. The parallel for me is that some stressful situations [a job interview, a presentation, a sales pitch, a project, etc] make us feel vulnerable. When feeling this vulnerability and stress we can choose to (a) avoid and not participate aka fight or flight aka the Threat Stress Response or (b) step into the vulnerability and be courageous aka the Challenge Stress Response.

For me, the most interesting part about the Challenge Stress Response is that we feel better prepared for the challenge when we have more resources to depend on. This was my “aha!” moment when I connected the dots on what I’ve been practicing the last few years to reduce stress in my life has actually been adding to my arsenal of stress resources, making me more likely to use the Challenge Stress Response over the Threat Stress Response.

What are some of these resources?

  • Friends and family who have earned the right to hear my story
  • Nutrition
  • Yoga
  • Breath-work
  • Self-love and self-compassion
  • CTI coaching
  • The Daring Way Workshop
  • Exercise
  • Writing
  • Acupuncture

Is stress the enemy? No, I don’t believe so. When I think about the times in my life I’ve been the most stressed, I also view these as the times of the most growth. Be it going back to school at night while continuing to work a full time job, to overcoming a challenging project at work, to going through some really heavy family drama, to losing my best friend way too early in life. Very different situations, varying levels of stress, but all leading to extreme growth.

My challenge to you is this… what can you do this month to build your stress resources? Stress isn’t going away, and I don’t believe it’s our enemy. To me, stress represents an opportunity to grow, and that opportunity can be seized if we have the right resources available to us.


Daily affirmation: “as my perspective shifts, my life shifts” 


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