Written by Doctor G

All change is stressful but not all stress changes

Hi! change

Have you ever noticed something you’ve known for a while but it took some time for that truth to come to the top of your consciousness? For you to know it out loud?

I’ve said the sentence “All change is stressful” on stages around the world for the past 10 years. And it’s true. If you’ve hung around and learned with me at all ever, you’ve probably heard me explain this neurochemical truth. Our brains see all change as a potential risk and we secrete stress chemicals in response to every change, even the good changes.

But this week I came face to face with a truth I’ve known and haven’t really addressed. All change is stressful. But not all stress is change.

That sounds confusing, but this is actually something you know, too. Let me put it another way.

Some of the things that stress us out or make us feel threatened don’t change at all. Some of us always find money – the making, having, spending of it – to be stressful. Some people are always stressed by an exam or test of any kind. Many of us have a person in our lives that, due to their behavior or beliefs or role, cause us to reliably feel terribly uncomfortable when we have to interact. These are unchanging stresses.

So what do we do when dealing with an unchanging stressor? This is a big question with a lot of individual nuance.

I’m going to take us back to some of my mom’s wisdom. As a teenager I would go to my mom when I didn’t know what to do in the world and she always recommended the same approach.

In the face of stress that I couldn’t walk away from (like a teacher who used humiliation as their go-to tool or a family member who wouldn’t acknowledge my ideas or a work schedule that never seemed to line up with what I’d requested or all the things my friends could afford that we could not) she would say:

If you can’t change the stressor, you have to change your reaction to it.

It was years before I knew she was building on and teaching me what the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor of four concentration camps explained.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

So yes, all change is stressful. Now I’d like us to think about the stresses we can’t or won’t change. What is one of those in your life? Comment and tell me.

Next week we’ll talk about how we can take this big idea of the space between the stressor and response to it and choose what strengthens us.

All my best,

Dr. G

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A widely recognized media personality, Dr. G is your go-to expert on resilience. Countless broadcast outlets rely on her contagious humor and illuminating stories to tackle tough topics. She is regularly seen on TV, as well as interviewed for print and digital outlets. Here, she’s answering your questions. Search for the answers you need, or ask her your question now!
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