Mca blog

Good vs Bad Stress

This past week has been a challenging one for me in many respects.

If you read last week’s newsletter you’ll be aware that I’ve had gremlins in my website for a couple of weeks that have been playing havoc with my events page. So I’ve not been able to post new events or receive online registrations for any of my existing events.

As a small business owner, this has been quite testing, and it has forced me to keep reminding myself that suffering comes from wanting something to be different when it isn’t.

As a teacher, it’s always good to be reminded to practice what I preach.

In addition, it’s been a particularly busy few weeks. I’m not complaining as I love my work. Those of you who have heard me talk know that I speak of the balance between eustress (good stress) and distress (bad stress). My busyness has definitely been eustress: it has challenged me just the right amount and success has brought a sense of personal growth and raised self-concept.

However, even eustress has its limits. When sustained over several weeks, the resulting effects on the body can be similar to negative stress. If you love your work and work very hard at it you will know what I mean. After a while it can lead to increased anxiety and even overwhelm.

Click on this link for a diagram that explains the difference between Eustress & Distress.

This is why meditation is not just reserved for the bad times. Even when you love doing something and you feel energised by it, you’re still risking burnout.

When we meditate we engage the body’s natural relaxation response. We focus our attention on something in the present moment outside of our head, as our head can only be in the past or the future. Our brain can take us to dangerous places : ruminating, catastrophising, wishing things were different to how they are. But when we focus on one of our five physical senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting we must be in the present. Our bodily senses can only be in the present. You can only see, hear, smell, touch or taste what is happening right now.

This is what we mean when we say mindfulness is being present – we don’t mean being present with thinking our thoughts, although awareness of thoughts is definitely part of the process. We mean connecting with the body, thereby returning to the here and now.

Most commonly we focus on the breath as this is always with us – we can never leave it at home by accident. It’s also a great window into our emotional temperature. Focusing on the breath and watching the full length of the breathing in and the breathing out settles both the mind and the body. The mind has something in the present moment to engage with, which makes letting go of other thoughts easier, and the body gets a chance to turn down the flow of adrenaline.

Importantly, when we practice regularly, we train our brain to move away from difficult and stressful thoughts when we need to. Meditation is the formal mindfulness practice that is for the brain what going to the gym is for the body. If returning to the breath is difficult, it’s like pushing heavier mental weights and this make us mentally stronger and more resilient.

Learning to meditate is only the beginning. Regular practice keeps your skills tuned.

Just like joining a gym keeps you motivated to exercise regularly, joining a meditation practice group does the same for your brain. Find a group that is easy to go to so you have fewer excuses. Choose one close to your home or place of work that meets at a time that suits you, or start your own practice group with friends.

What the Heart Foundation says about physical exercise applies also to mental fitness training: You don’t have to take it seriously, just take it regularly!

Back to Blog menu