by Jess Campbell
Results from a massive study indicate it’s not stress that’s so bad for you – but how you think about it.
You’ve heard it all before.
Less stress is best.
For a long and happy life, get rid of all your stress. (Except who can actually get rid of all their stress?!)
Considering all the people who’ve said stress is bad for you, it turns out they’re only kinda right.
Yes, living in a constant state of stress keeps your cortisol levels too high and puts undue physical stress on your body, especially your heart. No one will argue that’s good for you because it isn’t.
But according to a large study of over 30,000 people over eight years, it seems that how you perceive the effects of stress on your health matters a lot more than the stress itself.
WATCH WHAT YOU THINK
This incredible study was conducted in 2012 in the United States and the conclusion about what we think we know about how stress affects the body are fascinating:
- There was an increased risk of premature death in those who were experiencing high stress and believed stress was bad for their health
- Those who were experiencing a lot of stress and believed stress negatively impacted their health had a 43% increased chance of premature death
- Those who experienced a lot of stress but didn’t believe it negatively affected their health had the lowest risk of dying, even compared to people who reported experiencing very little stress (but who still believed stress was bad for them)
If you believe the stress you experience is actually good for you, your body will hear that and react accordingly. So much so that you’re much more likely to live longer.
While all of this might seem a bit daunting (How am I supposed to believe stress is good??!!) there is an existing aspect of stress that is already good for us.
THE GOOD STRESS HORMONE
We’ve already mentioned cortisol, which is the fight/flight/freeze hormone that’s released under stressful circumstances. There’s another stress hormone that is also released when you’re stressed out – but its effects on your body are entirely different.
Oxytocin has gained the nickname of the Cuddle Hormone because it drives us to seek comfort and support from other people during times of stress. So, that feeling you get when you’re stressed out and wanting to call your best friend to vent or hang out? Yeah, that’s oxytocin talking.
The main role of oxytocin in your body is to protect your cardiovascular system, aka your heart, from the effects of stress. When you’re stressed out, your blood vessels actually constrict; this is why we associate heart attacks with high levels of stress. But oxytocin is actually an anti-inflammatory hormone, meaning it helps your blood vessels stay relaxed during stressful situations. As if that weren’t awesome enough, it also helps to heal heart cells that have been damaged from stress.
So when we’re in a stressful situation or generally feeling high amounts of stress, oxytocin is the built-in mechanism for stress resilience.
THE PROOF IS IN THE STRESS
Changing the way you think about it is the one thing you can control when it comes to the stress in your life. As it happens, it’s your own thoughts that will help change the way you view stressful events and, therefore, change the way your body is affected by them.
Stress has an emotional impact; to change that impact, you need to change the way you think about stress. Instead of seeing it as a threat, see stress as a challenge – one that your brain and body will overcome with the help of its physical response (i.e. a swiftly beating heart is pumping lots of blood to your brain to help you find a creative solution to the challenge in front of you).
As well, practicing mindfulness along with developing a changed perception work together to reduce the effects of stress on the body and mind.
Stressful, challenging times are an opportunity to learn and grow; they certainly don’t have to be entirely negative. The next time you find your stress levels raising the roof on your life, why not take a step back and see the situation for what it is: a challenge, not a threat.
You might just find yourself with a new friend.
by Jess Campbell
Maintaining perspective is exponentially more beneficial for you during stressful times than stockpiling toilet paper.
In 2020, it’s an incredible time to be alive.
But currently, it’s also a rather scary and stressful time to be alive.
The COVID-19 pandemic is all anyone seems to be talking about. You can’t get away from it: it’s all over the news and all over social media. Empty store shelves and spiked prices for basic goods like toilet paper are a stark reminder of the situation, not to mention the postponements and cancellations of everything from school and church gatherings to sports events and international flights.
As if you need reminding, right?
Even though the effects of COVID-19 on farming and agriculture have yet to be seen, that doesn’t mean the panicked groupthink that seems to be happening doesn’t affect farmers.
It’s okay to admit that you may have thought about how lucky you are to have an endless supply of milk, beef or other animal protein, and that you live away from an urban centre. And it’s also okay to be worried about it all the same.
If you find that you’re worrying an excessive amount over the state of the world right now, here are a few things you can do to combat that worry and gain back a sense of calm.
MANAGE YOUR MEDIA
This one is listed first because it’s arguably the most significant. It’s easy to fall down a social media rabbit hole on the best of days, let alone when the world seems to be spinning out of control. Dialing back your social media use in a significant way will decrease your mental clutter, calm your (possibly very frayed) nerves and help you maintain perspective. If you’re someone who’s always online, set aside specific times during the day when you allow yourself to hop on. Outside of those blocks, however, try to keep Twitter in your pocket.
Extra helpful: silence or shut off social media notifications so your phone’s vibration mechanism can have a break, too.
STAY YOUR TYPICAL PATH
Farmers are usually pretty good at maintaining routine, especially when there are hungry livestock expecting to be fed at the same time each day. But when things like school and extracurricular activities are cancelled, it can throw said routine right out the window. Whatever is happening outside the barn or off the farm, try your best to stick to a regular routine. Doing so will help you maintain a sense of control within a situation that can otherwise feel pretty chaotic.
Extra helpful: if your regular routine just isn’t possible (i.e. because of kids at home or having to work from home when you usually commute to an off-farm office), set up a new one that will work for the short term – and that works for everyone involved.
When uncertainty looms – especially of this magnitude – it’s easy to want to “numb out” with distractions like social media. Except, we’ve already talked about how social media can be unhelpful here – so why not practice staying present? If you find yourself worrying about the future, focus on your five senses to bring yourself back to the present moment. What colours do you see around you? How does the air smell? Close your eyes and name the sounds you hear. Take note of how your clothes feel underneath your fingertips. Open and close your mouth to loosen your jaw and notice the taste in your mouth. Taking note of your senses forces your mind to come back to the present instead of spinning off into the what-ifs of the future.
TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE
No, you can’t discuss the score of the Raptors game last night (sadly). But even during a pandemic, life goes on. There is still work to be done and things to be accomplished each day, especially on the farm. So, talk about that! For example, now is a great time to make sure your spring planting plans are in order or to make any adjustments before getting out into the field to begin your busiest time of year.
Extra helpful: if you’re looking for something to talk about, play a board game or a game of cards. Surely, the competition will lend to some great conversation!
CHECK IN WITH OTHERS
Of course, we’re not talking about heading out into the crowds (although it’s doubtful there are crowds to venture into at this point!). But don’t be afraid to call or visit a neighbour, friends or family. It’s especially important to check in on anyone you know who is of higher risk, such as elderly folks or those with existing respiratory diseases (i.e. asthma). Give them a call or have a video chat if you’re not comfortable visiting in person. Staying connected with the people we care about is a great way to not only pass the time but to also remember that even though it may feel like it, we are not alone in this.
Extra helpful: do some baking and/or cooking and send your extras to a person or family in need.
Although the future may seem entirely uncertain under the cloud of COVID-19, it’s important to remember that no matter what’s happening in the world, no one can ever predict the future. When you do want an update, make sure it’s from reputable sources, like the World Health Organization or the Public Health Agency of Canada. It’s okay to be worried but using strategies like the ones listed above will help your worry remain in check – and will help you remember that we’re all in this together.
by Jess Campbell
Want to change how you feel about something? Then it’s time to change the way you think.
The world has been living through some truly unprecedented times recently. The COVID-19 global pandemic has had a drastic effect on everyone, to say the least. Social distancing, quarantine and self-isolation are terms no one is likely to forget anytime soon. And although there have been some beautiful things that have come out of this situation – like countless videos of communities coming together through song and dance from afar – fear is a significant part of existing in a world being choked by the unknown.
Consistently living in fear, even if it’s on a low simmer in the back of your mind, is certainly no way to live. Yet, that’s exactly how many are living right now, all across the world, a fact that is exacerbated by self-isolation.
Self-isolation is second-nature for farmers; due to the rural requirement of farming, most have been doing it long before this global pandemic hit. That doesn’t mean you can’t still be fearful of what might happen if you or someone you love gets sick.
Surviving this pandemic involves many things, like washing your hands, practicing social distancing and staying home. It also calls you to keep tabs on your mindset and make sure fear doesn’t get the best of you. And you can do that by changing the way you think about fear (or anything, for that matter).
HOW YOU THINK = HOW YOU FEEL
Most people are completely unaware of their thoughts. Yet, our thoughts greatly influence not only our bodies but how we see and interact with the world around us. Dr. David Posen, MD, is one of the world’s leading authorities on stress management and, through his books, seminars and presentations, he teaches people the importance of what he calls the mind-body connection. “The mind and the body are actually quite closely connected; they’re not really separate entities,” says Dr. Posen. “Think about when your phone rings at 2:30 in the morning. Before you even pick it up, you’re probably having a stress reaction: your hands are shaking, your heart is pounding, your breathing is faster. The reason is because your mind is already telling you something about why the phone is ringing. The stress reaction isn’t because of a ringing telephone, it’s because of what you think it means.”
According to Dr. Posen, the way we think affects the way we feel in profound ways. “When I start to talk about a problem with my patients, I’ll pretend to be quite obtuse and ask them why that problem is stressful for them. We get into interpretations and judgments and beliefs and expectations – and they start to realize that the situation is what triggers the stress, but it’s not what caused the stress. The stress is caused by their thoughts and how they talk to themselves about that trigger.”
If your stress is caused by your thoughts, then one can assume that changing your thoughts would change your stress.
That’s called reframing.
CHANGE YOUR FRAME
“We can’t always choose what happens,” says Dr. Posen. “But we can always choose how we look at what happens. That’s the concept of reframing – changing the way you think.”
Changing your thoughts sounds great – but is it actually doable? If so, how? As it happens, changing how you think is just like any other change you’re trying to make or habit you’re choosing to build. “It’s a practice,” Dr. Posen says. “(When facing a stressful situation) You can practice simply by asking yourself these questions: is there another way of looking at this? Is there an upside? Is there anything I can learn from this? Is there any benefit here? If you can’t think of something inherently positive, thinking of a neutral statement – called a coping statement, like ‘It is what it is’ or ‘What else is new?’ – is good, too.”
While some people are naturally very good at reframing, others may believe it’s simply a way of poking one’s head in the sand when faced with negative circumstances. But changing how you think about things to only see the positive isn’t what reframing is about. “We’re not taking stress away; this is not a stress free life,” says Dr. Posen. “We’re just reducing stress to a manageable amount and looking for the positives and the upsides. Reframing is not a gimmick. It’s an acknowledgement that there are different ways of looking at everything.”
In the beginning stages of practicing reframing, it may seem like you can’t see a positive side at all. It’s important to understand that the way one person can and does reframe something may not work as easily for you. Dr. Posen gives a great way to reframe your reframing practice, so to speak. “Among the questions to ask yourself when you’re trying to reframe: what would you tell a friend in that exact same situation? Sometimes when we can’t see it for ourselves, we can step out of ourselves, consider it from another perspective, and then see it much more clearly.”
THE KEYS TO REFRAMING
If there was a secret to reframing and successfully changing the way you think, it would involve two concepts, both of which farmers already have heaps of: resilience and gratitude. “Focus on what’s there, not on what’s missing,” says Dr. Posen. “We tend to focus on the negative, instead of things like – I’m healthy, I’m working collaboratively with my family, I have people working for me who feel like family because they’re committed to this farm, we’re providing healthy, safe food for people, what I do matters and has meaning and integrity, we’re safe and secure in our house. There really is so much to be grateful for.”
Resilience is something farmers are very familiar with; most have also been schooled in gratitude, too. And it’s these two concepts that have carried and will continue to carry farmers through whatever remains of this pandemic and through the 2020 season. “I have immense admiration for farmers, as they are the most resilient of our society,” Dr. Posen states. “Almost everybody can make a pretty long list of what they’re grateful for. Even if it includes things like sunshine and clean air to breathe. People can get through really hard things when they are able to notice even the smallest positive, sustaining or uplifting things in their life.”
The next time you find yourself worrying about what effect this pandemic – or anything, for that matter – will have on you, your family or your farm, reframe your mindset. Tap into your existing reserves of resilience and gratitude, reframe your mind and choose to feel differently, in a way that serves and benefits you. When you understand that you control how you think and react to what’s happening around you, you’re able to truly live life on your own terms and push fear-based thinking out of your mind for good.