When a kid on a TV show says she does yoga when she feels stressed, it becomes official – stress is an epidemic .Whether it’s your relationship, the economy, global warming (or lack thereof), the emails that keep on coming, or the phone that won’t stop pinging, we are becoming chronically occupied, preoccupied, and stressed.
We even manage to stress over our vacation! Will my vacation pics be Instagram-worthy? Are my abs sufficiently chiseled? Is my shark-bite swimsuit too 2015?
A new book from therapist Melanie Greenberg, PhD. to the rescue. And she doesn’t suggest moving to La La Land, quitting your job, or getting a personal celebrity trainer. What she does suggest is a new outlook.
In The Stress-Proof Brain: Master your Emotional Response to Stress Using Mindfulness & Neuroplasticity, Greenberg clearly and methodically explains how we can re-wire ourselves to experience less stress. She busts the myth that stress is motivating, and will lead you to productiveness. Here is what she says will happen if you reduce stress: “You’ll still be motivated to get important things done, but you’re likely to be happier and less anxious while doing them.” (p. 121).
Happier and less anxious? Sign me up! But, how do we get to this blissful state?
Of all the theory-based, true-and tried practical ways to achieving stress-less-ness Greenberg proposes, my favourite one was self-compassion. It essentially means turning to the person you see in the mirror every day, and getting them to cut yourself some slack.
Greenberg calls this ‘self-compassion’. It’s the art of accepting yourself, and loving yourself, even when your performance is less than perfect. Because, let’s face it – we can’t be perfect all the time. But we do need to live peacefully with ourselves all the time, imperfect abs notwithstanding.
She tells the story of Stacy and Greg, two high-achieving entrepreneurs, striving to perfectly on top of their health, their careers, their finances, their relationship, and their parenthood. Since they are very competent, but still human, they cannot live up to their own standards. This is when disappointment and guilt kick in, adding insult to injury, by being additional stressors.
Enter self-compassion. The fine art of accepting yourself as you are, and not expecting perfection. The lessons aren’t lost on me either. As I read the Stress-Proof Brain, I kept memorizing myself what I should and should not say. For example – instead of responding with “I give my very best in everything that I do”, I can admit that the guests coming over for dinner tomorrow night will have a decent meal, not a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Thanks to self-compassion, I can shift gears from “Being tired is no excuse for taking a break when there’s work to be done”, to “being tired is a good sign I need to take a break.” Because I know that I tend to push myself, so if I’m tired and feel I need a break, I’m probably right. And because life isn’t all about getting work done; It can also be about taking a breather.
If you’re self-compassionate, you will no longer adhere to “If I’m not working or being productive all the time, I feel lazy.” What a revelation, that we can substitute ‘lazy’ for ‘restful’, or even ‘re-charging’.
The self-compassionate vacationer will shrug when her pictures get little attention on Instagram. She won’t berate herself for ‘only’ having a reasonable figure. And when someone comments on her dated outfit, she’ll get in the water, making a big splash, and smiling a big, stress-free smile.