The Neuroscience of HappYness - Part 5
Part A of Stress, or more accurately, DISTRESS!
(Saturday, 11th May 2019)
Reading time approximately 5 minutes
Continuing from Part 4, how do you ensure that you do not lose brain cells? The common thinking is that stress is the biggest lifestyle ailment. That stress kills brain cells, damages DNA, makes one age faster, and it even kills people. I have penned a few articles earlier that stress is the most common cause of all human ailments and lifestyle diseases. Yes - that is PARTLY TRUE. This article is an attempt to simplify things (Really? Might be your thought after reading it though!) and to understand what stress is, and how it can be harnessed for your health and happYness.
Research shows that stress is bad, for all who think that stress is bad for them! And for those who believe that it is useful, and harness it appropriately, helps them do better across multiple activities. Hans Selye a Hungarian researcher first called attention to stress being bad in 1949! He had called it the “sick” syndrome based on his observations of humans, and the effects of certain actions on mice he was experimenting with. Stress, he said, was the response of the body to any demand made on it. Under the influence of the tobacco industry that financed some of his research, he even advised that "smoking was a good way to prevent the harmful effects of stress." He later went on to talk about two kinds of stress: "Eustress" - good stress and "Distress" - bad stress. He said, "There is always stress, so the only point is to make sure that it is useful to yourself and to others.”
What is commonly referred to as harmful stress is in fact "distress." Distress is a variety of emotional and physiological states that get put under one name! About emotional states, we can think of a few that are very readily understood - Shame, Guilt, Apathy, Grief/Sorrow, Fear, Desire, Anger, Pride (Arrogance) and so on. Within each there are multiple sub-divisions. For example, anxiety, worry, concern, etc. come under the category of “fear” commonly and collectively referred to as stress. The brain not wanting to expend energy (referred to in Part 4 of 4th May 2019) to go deeper and think to an extent of granularity might be the reason for this. For more on various feelings, you could access Gloria Wilcox’s “feeling wheel” (link below) that gives multiple words that fall into these major categories of “emotions and feelings.” These words are only for the English Language, though.
People mostly think that "stress" is not good at all; that it is detrimental; that is causes health issues; that it enhances unhappiness; that it is the worst situation for a human and so on. And sadly, that is not true. Uncontrolled or involuntary “distress” is surely not good, if experienced over extended periods of time. Good stress, or “eustress” is good, and helps achieve good health and much more (addressed in the next part in this series – Part B of Stress.)
From research the very interesting finding is that distress affects all those who believe that stress is harmful. To others who believe that the stress is useful for them, it helps them to achieve challenging objectives, be healthy and apparently totally unaffected by the distress. Maybe therefore, we will benefit from not branding stress as the villain. By labelling something and making it "outside" of the person - the individual is encouraged to stop taking responsibility for themselves. Once they are able to understand it, and learn how to choose to leverage it usefully, it becomes an ally.
You might be thinking, “I DO NOT WANT to be distressed! But, I am not ABLE to control my stress.” You have the ability since you were born with it. You might not have the knowledge to manage the stress in such a way that it is beneficial to you. The first step in managing the ill-effects of distress might be to use what I call the “SILSA” method. SILSA is an acronym for Scan(thoughts) – Identify (thoughts that affect) – Label (the exact emotion) - Set aside - Affirm. Simply put, when feeling distressed, follow these steps:
1. Scan your thoughts to identify all that causes you to be distressed.
2. Identify the exact thoughts that cause distress.
3. Label the exact feeling/emotion – using Gloria Wilcox’s “feeling wheel” is useful.
4. Set aside the feeling for a specific duration of time.
5. Affirm to stay focused and energised, and in a state to manage the situation.
Once you practice this, you might find that you are less distressed. And then you can work on converting the “distress” into “eustress” that is beneficial and good for you. More on that in the next article of the series.
PS. An image of Gloria Wilcox’s "feeling wheel" can be found here: https://www.happynesscoaching.com/gallery?lightbox=dataItem-jvkeotnf