So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.
First Inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933
It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. It’s not what you do, but how you did it. Communication is in the intention and then in the interpretation. You are communicating with your body all the time and you do this through your conscious mind to your subconscious mind. What you consciously say to yourself is heard by the subconscious. And I will let you in a very powerful secret...In fact, this is an ancient secret that has been known for a very long time. Your subconscious does what it is told, without hesitation. Your subconscious does not judge or filter anything you tell it. It listens obediently. That is the job of the subconscious. To listen without prejudice and act accordingly. So what are you telling your subconscious on a daily basis, on a moment to moment basis? And what does this have to do with your stress?
Stress does funny things to your body...and not all of it is bad. Stress can be very helpful, if we help it to be helpful. It comes down to perspective and science is taking a close look at this. Let’s explore...
When your body senses a challenge, a potentially positive activity with a likely positive outcome, your adrenals kick in and secrete adrenaline (epinephrine and norepinephrine) to prepare you to meet the challenge, and your heart becomes more efficient and your blood vessels dilate. Your body is preparing you for victory. But when your body senses a threat, adrenaline also equally kicks in, but your heart becomes less efficient and your blood vessels actually constrict. Your body is preparing you for the defeat. Challenge improves your brain and memory and threat ages your brain and destroys short and long term memory.
If you believe stress is a threat, then you are right, your subconscious obediently obeys and your body will help you with that belief by literally preparing you for defeat. You can read the technical stuff about what I am saying by clicking HERE.
I love Chevy Chase as Clark W. Griswold in the Vacation movies. These are American movies. They are "un homage" to the American ideal, to the American hero. I absolutely love them. What makes his character the “hero” in those movies? Why do we cheer him on? Because he is funny? Maybe. I absolutely love his humor and comical timing. But I don’t think that is it. Clark W. Griswold is the hero in those movies because he is so perfectly positive all the time. He is positive in the midst of the most absurd and difficult moments. He is positive when everyone else is seeing “the reality” of the situation and being upset, or being practical. His perspective is always positive...but occasionally has a few crazy outbursts of course! Clark sees life and all the slings and arrows it can throw at him as a challenge, and he rises to the occasion like a champion.
In psychology, we call what Clark Griswold does as “reappraisal.” This sounds like something you do with your home before you want to sell it, but it really just means “looking at a potential stressful situation in an empowering way.”
In a very revealing psychological study done at Harvard, they looked at this Clark Griswold phenomena or “reappraisal” and how it affects heart function. There were three groups who were put under stress by having to do math equations and public speak while the researchers literally harassed and heckled them. No stress there, right? But before they put them in the stressful situation, they told one group to “reappraise” and gave them empowering suggestions to look at the stress as a positive. They told another group to use the behavioral technique that is essentially “ignoring” the stress. And the the third group? Those poor buggers, the “no intervention” group, weren’t told anything and just had to fend for themselves. Not surprisingly, the “no intervention” group had the highest amount of measured blood vessel resistance (high blood pressure) and a significant decrease in cardiac output, or efficiency of the heart. The group told to just “ignore”, had a moderate amount of increase in blood vessel resistance, and no real change in the efficiency of the heart. It was a sort of neutral response, with minimal damage. The “reappraisal” group, the one that was told to simply view the stress as something positive, had a very low blood vessel resistance response and their cardiac output, the efficiency of the heart, greatly improved! The positive thinkers still experienced the stress, but the stress just meant something different to them and their subconscious, and their body actually improved DURING the stress.
Sometimes our stress really is simply the fear of fear. It is the fear of ourselves. The fear of our pain. The fear of our Light. There are really only two emotions in the world, Love and Fear. We can choose to seek a new understanding of what Fear does for us. Fear is an emotion, designed by our Creator, to help us, to serve us, and stand as a juxtaposition to the emotion of Love. And Love does the same thing, serving as a helpful juxtaposition to Fear. If you have ever been in Love, you know it comes with a dose of Fear. Both are necessary in this world. And the point of this article is to show you that Fear can be transformed by belief and perspective, into something that serves, serves our health, serves our personal reality.
As a doctor, I also believe in prevention. If there is a train coming at you, I suggest getting out of the way. But in your process of getting out of the way, see the train as a challenge instead of a threat. But please, by all means, still get out of the way. But often in life, we are actually already out of the way of the train and we still see it as a threat anyway, creating something that does not have to be thought of that way. I suggest combining the wisdom of avoiding potential stressful situations that do not serve you and your goals and then learning to “rise to the occasion” of stress like a champion, because you can.