Stress is a part of life. It can be helpful in protecting us from danger or pushing us to prepare for something new or difficult. More often, though, we experience it as a negative burden in our lives. Sometimes there is a low level ongoing that can go almost undetected because we are so used to it. Other times, we feel overwhelmed by a big change or challenge. Neither of these scenarios gives us a sense of well-being.
Beyond feeling "stressed", we may not realize it, but stress is taking a toll on our bodies too. We are not built to withstand the constant experience of stress. If our nervous system is in an ongoing state of alertness and activation, we are flooded with stress chemicals on a long-term basis. This spells trouble for many of the systems in our bodies including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous and even reproductive systems! (http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body.aspx)
We can't escape stress, so how do we deal with it? The best-case scenario is that we would do what other animals do: experience the stress, get flooded with stress chemicals to help us respond to the stressor, and then return to a relaxed state and allow our bodies to recover physiologically. When we feel that we don't have the resources to cope with a stressor, that is often when stress becomes problematic. This can lead to negative and overwhelming thoughts that keep stress alive in our minds and bodies. We can support our bodies in managing stress in many ways such as deep breathing and exercise, but we can also support our minds. I would like to share with you a story that I always enjoy that reminds me to be non-judgmental of my circumstances and to let go of the negative stories my mind likes to weave.
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically. "May be," the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed. "May be," replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "May be," answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "May be," said the farmer.
I invite you to reflect on the thoughts that come up for you when you are met with stressful circumstances. Notice the nature of those thoughts, the story they tell, and the effects they have. Notice if you have an opportunity to say "May be" to yourself to keep stress at bay. If you would like support shifting your relationship with stress, please let me know.
For more tools on shifting your relationship with stress, please join us for Moving from Stressful to Mindful, a workshop on practicing mindfulness tools for wellness in daily life that will be happening at the synagogue next month. (see below for more information and flyer on this program)
Moving from Stressful to Mindful!
Join us for Moving from Stressful to Mindful: Wellness Tools for Daily Life. Amy Small, LICSW, Kesher Social Worker for the congregation, will guide us through a variety of mindfulness experiences to help manage the stresses of daily life. Join us for 4 Wednesday evenings in April from 7-8 p.m (dates on flyer and synagogue calendar). Please click the link for flyer and further information.
Back to Kesher Program
Amy Small, LICSW, is the new Kesher social worker at the synagogue. Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, and currently active at Congregation Agudas Achim, Temple Torat Yisrael, Temple Am David, Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Beth Sholom. Amy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or