been told that there’s such a thing as ‘good’ stress—the kind that saved our prehistoric ancestors from the saber-toothed tiger’s jaws—the truth is that stress is stress. Even when we’re not running from tigers, up against a test or other deadline, stress seems to be an escalating aspect of modern life. In truth, even ‘happy’ events such as weddings, starting a new job, the birth of a child, etc., can create stressful moments.

Repair or Recovery? While the notion of whether there is

such a thing as ‘good’ stress has recently become a topic of controversy, everyone agrees that the bigger issue is chronic stress; “the emotional pressure experi- enced for a prolonged period that leaves us feeling that we have little or no control”. Chronic stress is a concern because

when stress is prolonged, our bodies don’t have a chance to relax—to repair and re- cover. As a result, the bodies’ sympathetic nervous system is constantly on high alert and in response, keeps releasing the stress hormone, cortisol. These days, given the pressing de-

mands on our time and the multitude of distractions fighting for our attention, we find ourselves impatient, worried, and anxious. In other words, many of us live with the kind of stress that shifts us into fight or flight mode and invites that con- tinuous flow of cortisol. When that hap- pens, the body’s other mechanism—the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for repair and recovery, as well

as digestion, blood flow and the regulation of hormones—goes quiet.

As it turns out, these systems of repair

and recovery and fight or flight can’t oper- ate at the same time. When one is running, the other stops. When the body has no time for repair

and recovery, the immune system is over- whelmed and can no longer fight illness or disease. The result? A shocking 60-90% of the illnesses and diseases seen by doc- tors these days are stress related! According to the American Institute

of Stress, “Contemporary stress tends to be more pervasive, persistent and insidious because it stems primarily from psycho- logical (rather) than physical threats.” “It is associated with ingrained and immediate reactions over which we have no control (but were) originally designed to be beneficial . . .” The above reference to beneficial re- sponse has to do with how the body pre- pares for fight or flight: “heart rate and blood pressure soar to increase the flow of blood to the brain to improve decision making (whether to run or stay and fight); blood sugar rises to furnish more fuel for energy; blood is shunted away from the gut, where it is not immediately needed for digestion, to the large muscles of the arms and legs to provide more strength in combat, or greater speed in getting away from a scene of potential peril”, etc.” “These and myriad other immediate

and automatic responses have been exqui- sitely honed over the lengthy course of human evolution as life saving measures

to facilitate primitive man’s ability to deal with physical challenges. However, the nature of stress for modern man is not an occasional confrontation with a saber- toothed tiger or a hostile warrior but rather a host of emotional threats like getting stuck in traffic and fights with customers, co-workers, or family mem- bers, that often occur several times a day.”

Mindfulness So, what are we to do? Is there a

healthier way to respond to stressful situ- ations?

Although we can’t always resolve the

situations in which we find ourselves or remove the stressors in our lives, we can control our response. As Viktor Frankl (Holocaust survivor

and author) said, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our free- dom.” Mindfulness allows us to momen- tarily rest in that space and make the choice to respond vs. react. Instead of finding ourselves lost in thoughts about the past or worrying about the future, reacting to people and situa- tions that we confront throughout our day, when we are mindful we can make differ- ent choices; choices that allow us to ac- knowledge not only our thoughts and feelings, but the many cues from our bod- ies and the external environment. Many of us try to ignore the signals and signs of stress or anxiety. The physical and emotional cost of such ignorance (aka


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