Four Ways to Get Good Stress

The principle of getting good stress is true, I think, in all the different arenas of life. If you understand these key areas you can at least get started in pursuing healthy degrees of challenge in your life to keep you sharp and strong.

Physical Exercise

This is something right at your fingertips. Even if it’s just doing daily push-ups when you wake up or in the evening. Ideally, it’s more than that. Some regular, sweat-inducing cardio, a fun sports game a couple times a week, a challenging resistance training routine. I’m hoping to learn some kind of fighting soon, which might take out an evening or weekend afternoon every week.

The number one excuse for not exercising is time. But again, even something small like a 20-minute run can give huge physical benefits! Kinesiology was my field of study in University, and a major take-away from several classes looking at physical activity research was that exercise is essentially a miracle drug. It fights depression, stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, and has innumerable other benefits.

So do yourself a favour and commit to getting some exercise.

Mental Exercise

Whether it’s reading a book, watching educational videos, writing, or even browsing Wikipedia articles that you find interesting, you need to find ways to sharpen your mind. Learning – and being challenged in what you think you already know – should be a norm for everyone, since the brain is much like any muscle and will atrophy if it is not challenged with healthy, regular use.

I encourage you to interact with content that you disagree with. Try and understand it, pick it apart, and explain to yourself verbally or in written form why you disagree. I find listening to both sides of any argument quite invigorating – even purpose-giving. It keeps you on your toes and you’re less likely to get stuck in your own ways and ideas, if you’re doing it right.

I’ll never forget when I once wrestled with the theology of the Protestant Reformers (Martin Luther and John Calvin, among others). Some of it I hated so much that I found myself questioning whether I even wanted to continue being a Christian! But after 8 months thinking and hearing different perspectives I embraced the doctrines I was once so scared of. That journey changed how I see the world, and I’m immensely thankful for it. Such intellectual journeys are not only fun but life-enriching, and we all owe it to ourselves to keep learning and seeking truth.

Relational Exercise

The internet age has given us artificial relationships while making us think we have real ones. We think we’re more connected than ever, but we’re not. Any wonder so many of us feel isolated and deal with resulting anxiety or depression? It’s time to put our skin in the game, take some risks, and build authentic relationships.

If you’re in a stage of anxiety or other mental illness right now, this kind of exercise will be especially hard. But like any “good stress”, the risk is necessary for the reward. And for some, the reward is finally coming to a place of security and mental health.

Start with friends or co-workers you have around. Think of a few questions you could ask them; make some conversation. Try to develop a curious mind, and questions will eventually just start to come (Dale Carnegie insists that a genuine interest is one of the chief ways of making real friends!).

Like any good stress, expect difficulties and even setbacks. Disagreements or conflicts in general are normal in any real relationships, so learn how to deal with them honestly and humbly. Try and see them as an opportunity for growth and greater connection rather than something negative.

Emotional Exercise

Most people in our western culture grow up not learning how to process emotions properly. As a result, when we get older, we just don’t know how to deal with them. We suppress, avoid, or just get frustrated because we don’t know what to do with our feelings.

I say this as a man who grew up in a home where you didn’t talk about emotions, and in a culture that doesn’t allow men that freedom. In an unfortunate twist of irony, my emotions often end up getting the best of me and leading to a deep seeded anger.

It’s a real challenge (a good stress), but we need to build emotional connections with people, learn to express and process our emotions appropriately, and accept them as they ebb and flow. As we do, we actually come to a point of greater emotional stability – that is, our emotions become helpful rather than controlling or crippling.

Bonus Round: Practicing Thankfulness

In our privileged culture, the #firstworldproblems thing is no joke. We are so entitled that we are incredibly ungrateful even when we have amazing lives.

Time to fight this indwelling evil. Fight it with the only true antidote: thankfulness. Think of things you have every reason to be thankful for. And be honest – if you’re not satisfied completely with something, ask yourself why? Consider that perhaps the problem is not the thing itself but you and your perspective. I find that when I really think about it, usually my biggest complaints in life aren’t that warranted. And when I stop with the complaining attitude, the relationship or work-related thing often improves as my attitude changes.

We’ll explore these areas some more soon. For now, be challenged and (appropriately) stressed!

Corey

The Good Stress of Purpose

runner-555074_1920I’ve talked before about the importance of struggle and healthy stress in our lives. It grows our character, strengthens our minds and bodies, and humbles us.

But something was lacking: what sort of things give us healthy stress in our lives? Here, I want to briefly explore why purpose is one good example of a healthy stress-inducer.

Pressure and Purpose

You might not first think of it this way, but purpose naturally puts pressure on us. It directs and guides us. It moves or draws us towards its ends, requires results, and motivates us with rewards (among other things). It keeps us from things that are undesired, destructive, or just a waste of time. It is a healthy stress if it is a good and correct purpose and one that drives us forward in important areas of life: overall health, good relationships, moral goodness, societal contribution, etc.

Think of school work. Perhaps your purpose is to learn and get good grades (though you may have a different one). That purpose motivates you to actually do your homework and work relatively hard at it. It stops you from wasting time on too much video games (hopefully) and is probably going to keep you from abusing drugs or alcohol which would get in the way of success.

I think of the people who did not adopt such a healthy stress in high school. They wasted time out in the forest smoking and playing hooky. Many of them didn’t really go anywhere. I know there are complicated reasons that someone might choose that lifestyle, and I’m not trying to be inconsiderate. I also think that any life can be turned around! That said, when people shirk healthy purpose, they leave behind overall health and success with it. The good stress of purpose will stop you from going down such roads.

Perspectives and Purpose

Coming from a Christian perspective has helped me in many ways. One of those has been by giving me an all-informing and all-encompassing sense of purpose. I know that my life is to be lived for the good of others and the glory of God. I live to tell others about the purpose that Jesus taught and the understanding that he gave. He takes care of my failures so that they don’t weigh me down or guilt me like most religion does. He promised a hope for a new earth in a future life, but also one that continues from this one. Thus, “what we do in this life echoes into eternity” as Maximus says in Gladiator. This completely changes how one lives.

I know not all of you reading this will come from or even be interested in a Christian perspective. That’s fine, although I do think that theists have an advantage here since I can’t see a good reason for having purpose that you just make up or that comes from something from this world only.

That said, I do think anyone can (and must) take advantage of the idea of purpose and the healthy stress that it puts on you. Consider thinking of purposes or “mission statements” for the different areas of your life. For example, you may have this mission statement for your family responsibilities: “I will prioritize my family relationships above all others, doing my best to help each member flourish, putting their needs above my own.” When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, this kind of statement will be a stressful one to carry out! But it’s a great one, and if you really believe it it will push you towards healthy living, and in one of the most important social institutions at that.

So wherever you’re coming from, and whatever place of “health” you’re at in your life, consider the benefits of purpose and the stress that comes from it. Remember that even though stress might seem particularly hard at first, you’ll need to build up strength to do it – but you’ll be better off for it.

Finally, be challenged: do you have purpose in your life? Are you giving yourself to meaningless or secondary things? Perhaps you need to do some soul-searching.

I hope you find strength in it all,

Corey

P.S. A Book That Talks About Purpose:

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

The Good Stress

 

bodybuilder-646482_1920Mental health issues have been on the rise for some time. And isn’t it strange that they come even as “stress” in our over-civilized lives has supposedly decreased? I’ve also noticed as an outspoken Christian and politics-observer that there’s an interesting insecurity not just in individuals but in entire cultural ways of thinking (notice all the protests and lack of reasonable conversations which I talked about in my last post). Coincidences? Maybe.

Maybe not.

The Art of Manliness has recently been discussing something they are calling “the strenuous life”. They note the steady decline of stress in day to day life with culture’s over-civilisation, both stress of the physical nature as well as of the mental. Life is, with technology and industry and the like, becoming easier and easier. And yet, we see on the rise an increasing count of apparent “stress” in the form of anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders. Also on the rise is unexplainable and undiagnosable pain in the body. Paradoxically, even with less stress, our bodies and minds seem bent on stressing themselves out.

Brett Mckay and his wife (who author most of The Art of Manliness’ stuff) make a call for “a New Strenuous Age”. And I think they’re on to something.

The Strengthening of Good Stress

Recently, I had a fascinating conversation with someone. Among many topics, the importance of good stress kept coming up.

My friend is learning Muay Thai, and recalled his need to learn how to take a good punch so that when he got hit in the future he could take it in stride. As we talked about politics and how hyper-sensitive so many people in our culture are today (in particular those who are on the Left side of things politically and socially) we related that sensitivity to the same principle as the bodily (and mental) stress that my friend needed to undergo for growth and development.

We both seemed to reach the same idea together as we talked: what if our lack of willingness to have the hard conversations and disagree with each other was leading (at least in part) to all this hyper-sensitivity? What if our lack of conversation was actually making it harder and harder to have a conversation at all, and thus leading to the difficulty of even living with and tolerating one another? Like a marriage that never quite fixes itself after a bad problem: somebody avoids conflict for the sake of so-called “peace” only to leave an issue to fester and rot the relationship from the inside out with bitterness and problems unsolved.

That is where we are. We have defeated ourselves by seeking comfort. We have become too soft to even function properly as a society.

I remember a friend’s story of conflict. While on assignment in Asia, he was working closely with a team of about 6 people (seeing/working with each other every day, living with one of them as a roommate… in general, very close proximity). When a regional leader came to the team a few months in, he was shocked to find each team member reporting no conflict. The leader called an emergency meeting. To him, this lack of conflict was actually a bad thing. Why? Because friction between people is inevitable. And when we learn to work with and deal with that friction, we actually get closer to each other through that difficulty. But if we don’t deal, we run the risk of bitterness festering and becoming something nearly impossible to work through.

It’s Easy to Be Soft Behind Screens

Consider also the internet and social media in particular. With being able to so easily take things out of context and with being limited to a certain amount of characters or words in any piece that I tweet or post, how can I really express myself in satisfactory nuance and be more understood? How can I have real relationships and a good support system (something key for emotional security) if I’m not having these kinds of conversations with real people and am content with discussions online? Perhaps social media is indeed largely responsible for a lot of the propagating of this bad disease of insecurity as relationships are electronic now more than they are real.

I heard Connor McGregor (a UFC fighter) say something like this regarding his training: the more uncomfortable you are willing to make yourself, the more comfortable you’ll actually become.

How paradoxically true! Not only for the body, but also for the mind.

We are so soft that we can’t tolerate even small stresses in our lives. Mere words trigger us, and we overreact. When we are hurt, we aren’t willing to have the conversation where we explain ourselves or just “agree to disagree”. Why? We’re soft. Insecure. Too proud to experience conflict and take the risk that should be part of any true and meaningful relationship and which is actually necessary for true intimacy leading to true security. All for selfish, supposed “comfort”.

We need to stop this. We need to harden. We need a new, strenuous age where we challenge ourselves in body, mind and spirit. We need to experience working with our hands and having rigorous dialogue with our neighbours, family and friends. We need to spend less time in our virtual, simulated world online and more time in the real world with real people looking at and touching real things. We need to challenge ourselves in our work, take on new tasks that scare us, and be willing to “fail forward”.

Only when we make ourselves uncomfortable can we find an increasing, true and malleable comfort.

Think for yourself about new ways you can do just that.

Corey

 

Responding to Adam4d on Anxiety

A few things got me worried (ironically) as I read Adam4d’s guest post at challies.com recently. As someone who has had clinical anxiety in different forms (and depression also), I felt the need to address some concerns that the article brought up. This is not meant to be an attack but a thoughtful assessment of his conclusions based on experience and all that I’ve learned in my process of experiencing anxiety.

First, I love the overall positive tone that Adam takes. He acknowledges the truth, and sincerely wants people to understand more about those who are struggling with anxiety, even as Christians. I also love that Adam does give the disorder its fair shake of the sauce. Anxiety is a powerful thing as a disorder and can indeed bring doom with it for no apparent reason. And it’s often not the fault of the individual! We all would do well to acknowledge this and realize that there can be issues we really just don’t understand.

But as someone who has gone through crazy periods of anxiety and depression and come out the other side with a lot of healing (emotionally, physically, spiritually and so on) I think there are some things going on that Adam is ignorant to, and so he may mislead us in some ways. It also appears that he has not achieved much healing or learned a lot in this area except for coming to a point of embracing his reality (which is important, properly understood). I sincerely believe that although brains can malfunction and patterns can be hard to break out of, we have the abilities to heal (most of the time), change our brain patterns, and that there are often life issues or patterns that we might not even be recognizing that can lead us into even physiological anxiety. I also want to note that a lot of what I am sharing I have learned not simply by experience but through good Christian counseling and psychological education (with names like Dr. Henry Cloud). Finally, I will always leave room for the cases that are indeed something we cannot fix and may even always need medication or the like for. We don’t know it all, and though I think the majority of strong anxiety cases are treatable (holistically), I can’t say that all of them are. I encourage all of you to at least believe that it can be treated and worked through, however! There is no point in hanging up the towel and being satisfied with where you are.

I was thankful to the “Letters to the editor” that Challies posted, and agree with some of the statements said there. Maybe check them out for some balance.

I will start how Adam ends, because I believe he exposes a root of the problem while enabling it further, and this is a great danger.

 

We know you’re not blowing us off… But it doesn’t matter

He says, “When we’re struggling… Tell us “it is finished.” Tell us what He accomplished on our behalf. But please, don’t call—a text or email will do just fine. :)” Do you see it? It is a fear of true interaction leading to avoidance of that interaction that surely leads to further alienation and isolation… And at the root of almost any depression or anxiety, as I’ve been learning from Dr. Henry Cloud, are those very things. Adam, you would do well to not only take real phone calls but make them. You would do well to fight through the pain of real interaction and relationship in order to overcome your paralysis. Trust me! You need friends. You need interaction. You need laughter. And you won’t get those things, really, without relationships that don’t just consist of text messages. 

Those invites you declined? The plans canceled? I don’t think you should have done so! I know you can’t do it all at once, and there are times you might need alone. Baby steps. But even if you’re actually an introvert, you still need people and strong relationships and true intimacy. Period. We are all human, introvert or not, and we are prone to insecurity if we are without intimacy. Anxious Christians are biblically mandated, also, to love people and also be loved… If you do not have genuine and deep relationships, are you really obeying that command? And so I advise any of you struggling with even slight anxiety – go and do relationship. Real relationship. Not social media, not texting… Real relationship. Start with baby steps if you have to, and maybe start on those relationships you already have that could be quite easily strengthened. Spend time with friends, people you enjoy. Go to parties, or out for a drink or video games with friends. Big groups, small groups, individuals – it doesn’t matter (though you should get all three eventually). You need people.

 

It might be more of a Matthew 6/Philippians 4 issue than you think.

As I said above, isolation could be your biggest problem (and often is at the root of anxiety and depression). But along with relational and emotional problems, it is very likely in anxiousness one may have thought patterns that are enabling or propagating the anxiety. I’m not saying it’s the main issue, but one might do well to learn some cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to help the mind slow down and stop going down certain paths. Like any neural pathways, they can be learned and unlearned. Biblically, we are responsible for seeking renewed minds, and we help ourselves if we do so! Basically, I want to tell any of you stuck in an anxiety rut that you might have more control than you think, and you are still responsible for your thoughts and thought patterns, even if you have dispositions that you can’t escape from on your own.

Coming from my own experience, I found such practices invaluable. I found that I was feeding my own anxiousness every time a trigger came my way. I learned that anxiety in its nature is illogical, and that if I really wanted to deal with a problem, I needed to hit the stop button whenever a trigger came (sometimes literally telling myself “STOP” in my mind or out loud) and refusing to think about whatever issue it was for the time being. Then, when my generalized anxiety was lowered or when I wasn’t in freak out mode because of the trigger, I could more helpfully assess whatever issue was at hand.

 

My own Journey

For me, panic attacks and constant freak out mode plagued me for months. Depression right there with it. I had suicidal thoughts, kept fearing that my girlfriend would break up with me, felt like I was completely alone, and had major insomnia which prevented healing. Even little things took me to extreme thoughts thanks to the patterns I was in. Eventually, I saw my doctor, saw a naturopath, got counselling, and read some really amazing books from experts on these issues. I decided to take medication for a season and try some simple supplements to help my body heal and recover.

Very soon after taking the supplements and medication, I started to feel more normal again. I was able to actually sleep so that my body could recover and I had the brain capacity I needed. It was time to address the issues at hand, and a counsellor helped me work through some major areas that were affecting me at both deeper and more surface levels. I learned how to control my thought life more effectively, and I learned how to understand anxiety and how to deal with it. The seemingly unstoppable monster that was anxiety had been dealt a crippling blow, and it was now more at my mercy than I at its.

Thanks to Dr. Henry Cloud’s book “Changes that Heal” and some reflection on my recent seasons of life, I realized that my relationships and social life were struggling. I didn’t really have friends close to me that I was interacting with regularly or relying on for help, and had let my stronger relationships from University weaken. In a way, the anxiety was a red flag or alert that these things were issues, but I didn’t know it. Now that I did, it was time to work on my social life and support system. Simply put, I needed friends and I needed fun. I had to learn to actually enter in to relationships and allow myself to be vulnerable again, even though the gut reaction was to respond as Adam4d appears to be – further isolation. This is normal, as in the moment it feels like the right thing to do. The temporary relief, the lack of social obligation or fear of what people might think, or of being vulnerable. But we must remember that strength comes through training – periods of being weakened because of a healthy stress followed by healing. In this case, the vulnerability of relationships was to lead to greater strength. I don’t think I’m completely where I should be yet, but the point is I’m not isolating myself at all. I am building my support system, growing in intimacy with good friends new and old, fighting anxiety and isolation with real relationships with God and others.

And that is my biggest issue with Adam’s post. He appears to excuse the anxiety more than is necessary, and excuse the further isolation which worsens the problem. And he speaks nowhere of healing, perhaps because he is not there yet. Adam, I pray you get there and find health again! And I pray that any of you reading this see the hope that there is and take some practical steps towards greater emotional and spiritual and physical health. It is available. Do whatever you can.

 

Corey