Common advice is to minimize stress, but here are five types of stress that can help create a meaningful life and show that stress isn't always bad.
Read more: Five Reasons why travel is good for you and How to Maximize the Psychological Benefits of Travel.
2. Falling in love
Dutch psychiatrist Walter van den Broek writes about the neurobiology of falling in love:
"When falling in love the same brain structures as in anxiety are stimulated: the amygdala and related circuits and neurotransmittors. Human beings are anxious until the bond with the loved one is accomplished... Cortisol levels are significantly higher amongst those subjects who have recently fallen in love, this suggests the stressful and arousing condition associated with falling in love." Read more.
3. Graded exposure to things that are meaningful but make you feel afraid or uncomfortable
Graded exposure is part of therapy for a wide range of psychological problems.
For example, in eating disorders treatment, participants make a list of forbidden foods (foods they would avoid unless binge eating). They order the foods on a 0-100 scale, from 0 = least anxiety provoking to 100 = most anxiety provoking, making sure to includes different foods at 5-10 point increments so there are no big jumps.
The person would then practice eating those foods when not at high risk of bingeing. They would repeat this practice with the same food until they could do it with about half as much anxiety as they started with, and then move on to the next step up. This helps the person break the cycle of psychological restriction > bingeing > psychological restriction.
Although graded exposure has traditionally been used to treat disorders, you can use graded exposure for everyday purposes. Last year I did this to become more comfortable with camping. First I set my tent up outside and just hung out in it for a few hours, next I camped in my lounge, then my lawn, than a camping trip. I wasn't afraid of camping but this stepped process allowed me to become a lot more comfortable with setting up my tent and camping equipment.
How stressful people find change is considered one of the fundamental dimensions of an individual's temperament (termed "Adaptability" in the Thomas and Chess model of temperament). In other words, it has a large biological component.
If adapting to change is hard for you, you can do things to make it easier e.g.,
- Make a reminder list of some examples of change that has turned out to be positive.
- Use graded exposure, as explained above.
- Use good self care
- Minimize other willpower demands during times of change, so that you have some coping reserves available to you.
Author Summer Pierre writes eloquently about the psychological effort involved in change:
"One of the things that I always forget about big change stuff like this is it is always somewhat HIGH MAINTENANCE, triggering, and full of false starts. That goes DOUBLE when you have other high maintenance elements to deal with like toddlers, non consistent transportation options, and low funds. I have to keep remembering to use humor as not only a pleasurable option, but as a necessary tool against darkness. In other words, we have to keep remembering to CHILL THE EFF OUT. I have a FEELING I will need to be reminded of this again and again." (Read the rest of Summer's entry on her excellent blog)
5. Being a beginner
Pursuing things you're curious about and interested in helps create a sense of meaning in life. It gives you a sense you're living your values, helps you have a sense of knowing yourself, and eventually, builds skills and confidence. To achieve these benefits often involves feeling a bit foolish for a while and asking some "stupid" questions. But if you can tolerate that, you can access the benefits that come from pursuing new interests and challenges.
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Photo: Forest Park by Philip Leara. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.