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Transforming Stress To Connect Better With Others & Avoid Its Negative Effects

Are you feeling stressed? Do you see it on those around you?

While for many in NYC fall is an exciting time of the year, it tends to, sometimes, be stressful. It’s a start of school for our kids, new projects at work, thinking ahead about the holidays, making new goals and plans…

Over the summer I read a book by one of my mentors George Faller, a gifted couples therapist, and his co-writer Heather Wright, called SACRED STRESS. Some of you who I work with now heard me talk about the book and suggest it. I am choosing this book at a potentially stressful time for many of us, not necessarily because of something terrible happening but just because all of us have so much going on in our lives that it is hard not to get stressed out. And then, of course, recent incident in Chelsea and New Jersey, terror rearing its ugly head again.

One of many points of this book is that stress is inevitable and we can use it to separate ourselves from loved ones and feel alone and helpless or to use our stress to connect and share ourselves in a vulnerable way with those we love to feel closer and safer.

According to the authors, stress takes life and gives life. It is an inescapable part of our existence. It can help or hurt us. The negative effects of stress are clear. We are overworked and overwhelmed much of the time. When we feel stressed we tend to become more defended, guarded, less open to others and self -involved. We tend to have negative feelings and thoughts which push us away from those closest to us, at times many of us tend to turn to unhealthy coping activities such as drinking, drugs, overeating, overspending, zoning out in from of TV, etc.  In these times, negative aspects of life are magnified while positive ones go into the background.

So how can we change this negative feedback loop?

George and Heather suggest noticing how our perceptions of stress skew us too far toward the negative side of the spectrum. What we need to do is to go with the optimistic lends to our understanding of stress. With the bad stress there is also what the authors call “eustress.” It is a positive response to a stressor which may enhance life. It is the fuel for achievement, accomplishment and connection. “Eustress is not an emotion but a generative tension that causes growth – and we often have positive emotional response when we recognize that growth.”

Every challenge we encounter can trigger distress, eustress or both. How we interpret these situations is subjective. We all have the capacity to transform distress into eustress. For one, we can turn to a bottle, or stare at TV or turn to a friend or a partner.