Cambrian: Opinion

Accept the message of stress and meet the challenge

On a path at the outer edges of Esalen in Big Sur, the columnist resolves to reflect on her own words more frequently and to continue meditating on guidance.
On a path at the outer edges of Esalen in Big Sur, the columnist resolves to reflect on her own words more frequently and to continue meditating on guidance. Special to The Cambrian

Only a human will track life by the clock and calendar. Sure, nature and indeed, humans, have their own inner clockworks — we follow innate urges to mate, to eat, to gather fuel.

Every other being in the world but homo sapiens follows that natural rhythm — although we do (and we fight it) when the clocks get changed backward or forward. Our lunch break isn’t for another two hours, but we’re starving now. You’ve got to have a kid now.

“They do not keep clocks in their houses. Instead, they listen to their heartbeats. They feel the rhythms of their moods and desires. … They know that time moves in fits and starts.” (from “Einstein’s Dreams,” a lovely novel about time by Alan Lightman)

But here we are at the new calendar year, and we cannot help but grasp at this measure of time as a new beginning, another chance, forgiveness for our shortcomings as we are sure to change our ways beginning today.

By the way, it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to create a new habit. Phillippa Lally is a health psychology researcher at University College London who led research into just how long it takes to do so. With a small group of participants, they concluded it took as much as 21 days, but that number is what the media gobbled up and spewed out. The fact of the matter is it’s different for all of us. There is never a magic pill.

The magic is within us. I tell my massage and hypnosis clients they must do the work. Yes, I can rub them and get the energy and blood flowing but they must listen to their body, their emotions, their energy and allow it to do what needs to be done.

“Oh, if only it were that easy,” said one client when I reminded her she had permission to let go of her arm that was sticking straight out from the table. Sorry, but only you can make that happen.

Don’t beat yourself up over that cookie

By the way, the researchers also found that “missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.” Don’t beat yourself up if you have one more cookie at the party.

In fact, that leads me to my intent here: Don’t beat yourself up, period. We better serve ourselves by making positive associations with a habit to act as motivators. When we stress about stressing less, well …

According to Kelly McGonigal, psychologist at Stanford University and author of “The Upside of Stress,” stress can benefit you — if you shift your mindset. Stressful circumstances are troubling, she explains in an interview with Tom Crann of Minnesota Public Radio, but recent research suggests stress is an adaptive state that ultimately helps you cope with challenges.

McGonigal says that viewing stress as toxic (while of course we know it is) can cause you to cope in ways that are even more harmful than the stress itself, like smoking or binge eating. Similarly, when you try to avoid stress, you can become overwhelmed or anxious.

Instead, McGonigal suggests you learn to view stress as a signal from your body and brain that you are rising to the challenge. This will encourage you to act, ask for help, or make meaning of the situation. (from e-letter “Learning Strategies,” Dec. 27)

I take this to mean, in other words, when you notice you are feeling stressed tune into it. This is your green flag to examine and act on it. We tend to lump our daily lives in one big bowl of gruel. Instead, pick out the individual grains. The big picture is too big, too much to swallow. Break it down.

Be kind in setting your resolutions

And if you are setting resolutions, be kind.

▪ “I will honor my body every day with more healthy food.”

▪ “I will move in ways that bring me joy” (make lists of options).

▪ “I will slow down and listen — to myself and to the world.”

▪ “I will find good and beauty in every day.”

▪ “I am worthy of love and respect and I will ask for help when I need it because I deserve it.”

▪ “I am free.”

Such positive affirmations will ultimately make you feel better about yourself.

Funny thing, the better you feel about yourself, the less stress you may feel and the healthier you will likely become. You may find yourself not needing any resolutions other than to top out your happy meter.

Happy New Year!

Dianne Brooke’s column is special to The Cambrian. Email her at ltd@ lady tie di .com, or visit her website at www .lady tie di .com.