Stress: Choose Your Response

Turn Stress into Good Stress by Choosing Your Response

Life is a parade of stress-inducing situations ever looming on the horizon. Which helps explain why, the more you resist stress, resist the inevitable, the more painful it becomes. For instance, say that your stress was an egg. And imagine squeezing and squeezing that egg. It’d finally crack under the pressure, right? What a mess! But if you gently hold the egg, you can easily handle it.

Stress can Make us Stronger, Smarter and Happier

In a Stanford News article by Clifton B. Parker, the author interviewed Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal who talked about her research indicating that “stress can make us stronger, smarter and happier – if we learn how to open our minds to it.”

McGonigal states that “The three most protective beliefs about stress are: 

1) to view your body’s stress response as helpful, not debilitating – for example, to view stress as energy you can use; 

2) to view yourself as able to handle, and even learn and grow from, the stress in your life; and 

3) to view stress as something that everyone deals with, and not something that proves how uniquely screwed up you or your life is.”

... a cascade of health-promoting physical responses

Studies have shown that when we embrace stress, our bodies release a cascade of health-promoting physical responses. A life-saving “biology of courage” that helps you endure and thrive even under the most daunting, stressful conditions.

A mindset reset

In a Q&A with the Rotman School of Business, McGonigal responded to one of the questions with the following: “The profound ‘mindset reset’ that I’m encouraging involves embracing stress because you understand that there is no way to live a stress-free life, and that the presence of stress in our lives is important to being human. We need stress in order to experience the things we want most in life — whether it’s health, happiness, love or growth. I am convinced that when you choose to see the upside of stress, you increase your resilience, add meaning to your life and make more personal connections.”

A story from real life

In 2008, my husband, Stan, of 8 years was diagnosed with Stage IV gastric cancer. “Sorry, the horse is out of the barn” is what we were told over and over. Sorry, too late for surgery, the horse is out of the barn. Sorry, too late for radiation, the horse is out of the barn. “Maybe oncology can help.”  

In no time at all, here we were, our world suddenly turned absolutely upside down. It felt surreal and almost like we were watching ourselves in a movie. Alas, an oncologist who embraced Stan’s situation and wasn’t about to allow the horse to keep running until Stan ran out of breath. Instead, he told us that “Sometimes aggressive cancers respond to aggressive treatment.” Okay then – let’s get started, we responded. Keep in  mind, he continued “you have less than a 5% chance of living 5 years.”

That was a defining moment and one filled with immense stress – the life or death kind…literally. At that moment, we had a choice, we could feel defeated, go the chemo course and hope for the best.

Instead, we chose our stress response. For Stan, it was an attitude of I’m not ready to leave my wife and my family – I still have so much to live for. Stan also looked at the odds and chose to respond by taking on the perspective that somebody is in that 5% that makes it so it’s going to be him.

The stress response I chose was one of combating this evil force. I could see it, it had a shape, it had a colour and it was voracious. Well guess what, I could be voracious back – “no I’m not going to let you win” I thought. 

Our stress responses were a choice and with choice comes power. There is so much more about this journey but today I just want to focus on just one of the techniques for mastering stress – choosing your stress response.

That choice is what kept me going as the caregiver, researcher, on-demand cook, chauffeur, part-time coach, communications head and wife. My choice gave me the courage that I needed to continue although inside I was filled with fear, particularly in the early days.

Later that year...

Months later, as my husband continued to make phenomenal progress and defy the odds, the oncologist shared that when he first saw Stan, he didn’t expect him to live 6  weeks! In fact, he said that the majority of people that don’t choose a positive stress response don’t make it.

There were so many life lessons learned in that time and yes, Stan continues to be super healthy and almost impossible to keep up with as we approach the 12.5 year mark as I write.

Where to start

How can you shift your perspective to choose new ways of responding to stress so that you turn stress into good stress?

This week’s worksheet for my e-zine Brain Food Friday readers guides the reader through a brief exercise of choice.. If you want to receive access to my worksheets, sign up to receive my monthly blog in your inbox by clicking on the round green “click here” button. You’ll start receiving Brain Food Friday in your inbox the first Friday of each month along with a link to a corresponding worksheet.

The Beginner’s Guide to Raising Your Standards

The Beginner's Guide to Raising Your Standards

What are Standards?

Your personal standards refer to the behaviour and actions you are willing to hold yourself to. They are the way in which you have chosen to behave, and the higher your standards, the better your life.

The Benefits of Raising Your Standards

When you have high standards you…

  • feel very good about yourself and others. 
  • become irresistibly attractive to high quality people. 
  • don’t even get near people or situations that cause problems.  

Your Self-esteem and Self-worth increase

  • Living your life according to a set of standards you admire and respect is one of the fastest ways to improve your self-worth and self-esteem – and it’s the most sustainable.  

High standards help you get your needs met.

  • Standards are based on values, so when your standards are high you also have values that inspire you.
  • When you are inspired by your values and acting consistently with them via your standards, your needs will be fulfilled almost automatically. 

Stuff you don’t want stops coming into your life.

  • As you attract more of what you do want, the stuff you don’t want falls by the wayside.  

You tolerate less..instinctively. 

What are some examples of standards?

Key Points about Standards

  • Being unconditionally constructive with everything you say or do with another. 
  • Being fully responsible for everything (good or bad) that happens around you. 
  • When given the choice of being right or being kind, be kind.  
  • Maintaining a reserve that gives you peace. 
  • Telling the truth, even if there is a consequence. 
  • Putting people ahead of results. 
  • Paying your bills on time.
  1.   Personal standards are a choice.  
  2.   There are different levels of standards.  
  3.   Standards are what YOU set for yourself.  
  4.   Standards are not affirmations.  
Key Points_300x200px

The First Step in Raising Your Standards

There are 5 steps to raising your standards and the first is called Clean Sweep. The Clean Sweep Program consists of 100 items which, when completed, give you the vitality and strength you want. You have more natural energy when you are clear with your environment, health and emotional balance, money and relationships.  

Where to start

Start the Clean Sweep program and try to get 5-15 points. This will give you a burst of energy and a reference base for successfully raising your standards. You can then decide what area you would like to work on next and challenge yourself with a new points score for 30, 60 or 90 days from now. Don’t feel pressured to rush it. It’s more important to gradually work on increasing your points total. Please note that there may be some areas that you will never check off…and that’s ok as long as they are not causing you to be distracted or feel incomplete.

This week’s worksheet for my e-zine Brain Food Friday readers walks you through Step One of the 5 Steps. If you want to receive access to my weekly worksheets, sign up to receive my weekly blog in your inbox by clicking on the round green “click here” button. You’ll start receiving Brain Food Friday in your inbox each Friday along with a link to that week’s worksheet starting next week.

Do You Know Where Your Boundaries Are?

Do You Know Where Your Boundaries Are?

Boundaries are the limits or invisible lines you place around yourself for protection. They are the limits of what you can and will do, as well as the limits of what you will and will not accept from others. They are the filters to stop people from infringing upon you with behaviour you feel is unacceptable.

In a sense, boundaries are used to set you apart from others and give you a unique identity. They help define who you are and who you are not. Often your values will play a role in defining your boundaries.

Some examples of boundaries

Emotional: not allowing someone to intimidate you with their anger or fear, not allowing anyone to hurt you intentionally.

Mental: not allowing someone to lie to you, not allowing someone to be passive/aggressive to you, not allowing people to use belittling and demeaning language to you or about you.

Spiritual/religious: not allowing someone to talk disparagingly about your beliefs, not allowing others to force their religious beliefs upon you

Creative: not allowing other people into your physical creative space such as a studio when you are focusing on your art.

Financial: not loaning money to friends and relatives, not borrowing money from friends and relatives, setting limits on the amount you charge on your credit cards.

Relationships: not gossiping,  not allowing others to gossip in your presence, not tolerating toxic relationships.

Boundaries help define who you are – and who you are not

Most of us have boundaries, and everyone’s boundaries will be different. This is part of what sets you apart from other people. By setting limits, you indicate to yourself and others what you stand for and who you are.

Big boundaries are good for your health

Think of it as a reserve of boundaries. When you have more space, you have more room to develop. When you have a larger boundary than you actually need, you have more room for choices.  Boundaries are essential to becoming a healthy adult.

Having boundaries allows you to use your energy the way you want to.

Boundaries become eventually become automatic

At some point your boundaries become automatic, requiring little to no attention on your part. They are a part of setting up your environment to serve you.

Even negative boundaries can become automatic, so the key is to be deliberate about establishing the boundaries you want and need.

Where to start

There are 5 steps to extending your boundaries and the first is to become aware of your boundaries.

This week’s worksheet for my e-zine Brain Food Friday readers walks you through Step One of the 5 Steps. If you want to receive access to my weekly worksheets, sign up to receive my weekly blog in your inbox by clicking on the round green “click here” button. You’ll start receiving Brain Food Friday in your inbox each Friday along with a link to that week’s worksheet.

What Jazzes You?

What Jazzes You?

Did you know that April 30th is really International Jazz Day. This isn’t one of those made up international day of the whatever. It’s a real thing!

What does UNESCO have to do with it?

According to jazzday.com “In November 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officially designated April 30 as International Jazz Day in order to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe. International Jazz Day is chaired and led by UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay and legendary jazz pianist and composer Herbie Hancock, who serves as a UNESCO Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue and Chairman of the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz.”

Jazz is probably one of the most misunderstood genres of music. Likely because it encompasses so many different styles of music. The beautiful thing about jazz is that it is a unifying form of music regardless of the style. How do I know? UNESCO said so!

Challenge #1: Step out of your comfort zone...

In celebration of International Jazz Day, I am challenging you to listen to a work of jazz that you’ve not listened to before. Perhaps, you may even challenge yourself further by listening to a work of jazz from another part of the world.

So why am I writing about this today? Besides the fact that I love many forms of jazz, it’s about feeling one with the world and stretching ourselves out of our comfort zone or perspective. I have a friend that has often said “I hate jazz.” Period – end of conversation. What he’s not done is taken any time to even explore what jazz is.

As a small step in your personal growth, I’m challenging you to step out of your comfort zone for a few minutes today to listen to something new.

The music field was the first to break down racial barriers, because in order to play together, you have to love the people you are playing with, and if you have any racial inhibitions, you wouldn't be able to do that.                 Oscar Peterson, Great Canadian Jazz Pianist

The music field was the first to break down racial barriers, because in order to play together, you have to love the people you are playing with, and if you have any racial inhibitions, you wouldn’t be able to do that.

Challenge #2: Answer this question...

Secondly, how about reflecting and asking yourself “What jazzes me?”

But wait... I have something new for you today!

Each week in this blog, there will be a personal reflection form related to the topic of the article. I hope you use the fillable pdf worksheets as a tool for reflection and growth. You can download it by clicking on the button just below here.