Stress – we’ve all felt it, and in today’s day and age, it’s just a fact of life. But just because it’s seemingly unavoidable doesn’t mean you have to give in to it. Learning ways to manage and cope with stress is essential for a healthy and balanced life.
This is something I spoke about in-depth on my latest podcast with Dr. Elissa Epel, an accomplished Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California in San Francisco.
As a member of the National Academy of Medicine, past president of Academy of Behavioral Medicine, and coauthor of the New York Times bestseller ‘The Telomere Effect’, you could say she’s relatively familiar with the world of stress and mental health. Dr. Epel has worked in the field for years, and most recently announced the release of her latest book, The Stress Prescription: 7 Days to More Joy and Ease, for December 27th. With the holidays in full swing and tensions high, now seemed like the perfect time to sit down for a chat about everything stress and how to manage it.
Differentiating Between Good and Bad Stress
The first thing Dr. Epel and I touched on is the broader subject matter itself; what is stress? How does it work? How does it affect us? And most importantly of all, how can we manage it?
She approaches the answers in a unique way, saying that there are multiple types of stress. There’s the good kind, or eustress, which is stress with a purpose. This can be anything from the excitement felt when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to the motivation to finish writing a project before its due date.
Then, there is distress, which is the kind of stress that can stand in the way of our goals. Ultimately, the key to mitigating the negative impacts on either in your life requires an ability to distinguish the two, and restructure how you approach them.
Dr. Epel believes the way to do this is by focusing on what can be learned, gained and grown from each situation. There is always a silver lining and it’s important to focus on that – this approach gives us the resources we need to feel hopeful and successful.
When it comes to combating the bad kind of stress, she recommends building a support system and seeking out healthy coping mechanisms. This could be anything from therapy to your favorite movie or a nice walk. Physical exercise, being outdoors and talking to friends are all great ways to help combat the effects of distress.
Combating Stress With Cold Therapy
When it comes to managing stress, there are countless ways to do so. But Dr. Epel makes the point of saying that the most efficient methods take advantage of the connection between body and mind.
Our nervous system is an intricate network that’s interconnected in more ways than one. Physical stimulus causes mental effects, and vice versa.
This connection can be an invaluable tool for coping and resilience. Dr. Epel notes that exposing your body to short, controlled shots of stress – such as a cold shower – can help lessen the impact of distress.
Cold therapy stimulates nerve endings, releasing endorphins and stimulating a fight-or-flight response. This can be useful in certain cases, as the body’s natural reaction is to expect danger and prepare for it. In some cases, cold therapy can even become mildly addictive, as it promises a chemical reward every time our body survives the exposure. I’ve personally experienced this with cold showers; while getting used to frigid water can be tough at first, it’s become one of my favorite things.
A Prescription for Seven Days
Dr. Epel further explained her unique approach to combating stress with reference to her latest book, ‘The Stress Prescription’. The book is a 7-day program that encourages readers to use their own experiences to create healthy habits.
It’s based on the idea that repetitive and ritualistic practices are key to building resilience – something that Dr. Epel calls the ‘habit of relaxation’. She encourages readers to use this habit to create a healthier relationship with stress and build a sustainable lifestyle to better manage it.
The book itself is designed as a 7-day journey, but Dr. Epel is also mindful of the fact that not everyone has the same schedule – something which is especially true among creatives and entrepreneurs. For this reason, she suggests that readers can take as long as they need to finish the program, so long as there is progress. There are a handful of strategies to explore, and it’s just a matter of finding the one that works for you.
While today’s fast-paced, highly-digital, and demanding world can take its toll on our wellbeing, Dr. Elissa Epel has provided us with a reminder that we’re not slaves to stress. We can take control of our relationship with it and even use it to our advantage, if we take the time to explore our resources and understand our fears and limitations. I highly recommend Dr. Epel’s new book ‘the Stress prescription Seven Days to More Joy and Ease’, along with the other bestsellers she’s had a hand in writing over the years.