The way we look at stress


This video came to me via my friend Alana via facebook via upworthy via youtube via TED. We live in a world in which ideas bounce around like rubber balls on a linoleum covered floor, and I think that can be a good thing.  However, it can also be extremely confusing.

The focus of this video is stress, and our relationship to it.  It’s about how we frame stress.  If we think of stress as bad then it has negative consequences.  If we think of it as good it has positive ramifications.  The speaker, Kelly McGonigal, explains that as a health psychologist she has spent the previous decade counseling people to avoid stress, and therefore fears she has sent many people to an early grave.  However, stress is such a catch all word at this point that it’s hard to make sense of this information in coherent way.

To frame things a little differently, it sounds like what she’s really talking about is fear and the repression of emotions.   When people become aware of feeling stressed out and try to repress the feelings that lead to the stress then the negative health outcomes occur.  There appears to be a very direct relationship of the response to the body’s natural reaction to stress, and how the reaction affects the body.  In essence she is pointing out that the “unnecessary” fear of the natural stress response is worse than the stress response itself.  This idea dovetails with what Ashok Gupta talks about.

When I was stuck on the floor last year in both insane psychic and physical pain (which was in some sense probably an extended panic attack) I repeatedly listened to a mediation tape of Gupta’s.  Shortly into this 26 minute piece he pointed out that the pain was a message from our body and continued, “That which we resist persists.  And that which we observe with a calm mind will slip away.”  While Ashok Gupta isn’t talking about mindfulness mediation, his methods of treating chronic fatigue draw from many of the same sources as this practice.

I was talking to an expert on Dr. Sarno’s theories yesterday and I mentioned the fact that the science of mindfulness was on the cover of Time magazine.  She quickly pointed out that mindfulness wasn’t a treatment for TMS.  I concurred, but pointed out that I believe the two are connected.  The people who are taught how to observe and accept their emotions and how those emotions manifest in the body are that much more able to accept and understand the diagnosis and treatment of TMS.  As I still struggle to fully overcome the pain issues, I have found mindfulness meditation to be very helpful.

Further, as we can see through the work of Dr. Clarke (“They Can’t Find Anything Wrong”) and Dr. Mate (“When the Body Says No“) these same processes can manifest in a myriad of ways leading the mind and body to interact with negative physical results.

I think this is a valuable video to watch.  However, in its essence it points to another theme of “Story of Pain” (and the idea of storytelling itself); things are not what they seem.  Her story is, “I used to think that, and now I think this.”  The only logical conclusion is that tomorrow we will think another thing.  It’s terrifying to think that we don’t know the answer to the world’s problems (or our own).  However, if we do as Ashok Gupta says, and observe the world around us with a calm and open mind, we find that new answers to unanswerable questions will often appear.

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