Did you know that stress feels exciting?

Thursday I I started the day with a cold shower. I’ve been doing this on and off for years and, while it’s still an awful experience, I do feel wonderful when I step out of it. Awake, excited, thrilled even. That morning I followed the shower by sitting down to meditate and I noticed something odd.

I had a hard time following my thoughts, I had a hard time sitting down at all. I was elated, but fidgety. I usually count my breaths from 1 to 10 and then back from 1 again. But that morning I couldn’t get to 3. The odd thing I realised was that this is what stress feels like.

Stress is not good or bad. We often read about the negative effects, so we get negative connotations. But stress is just a mode your body goes into where everything is ready for action. High energy. Primed. I don’t know about you, but I had not reflected on the fact that this feels great. It’s the same state of mind I hope to get from coffee. Really good music can push me into it. A great session at the gym can do the same thing. I feel pumped.

Normally I just think of stress as being rushed. Rushing from task to task. Struggling to get anything done. Anxious about not doing enough. And that’s also stress. But I think my negative view of stress has made me lump several emotions together.

Stress is only feeling pumped. Rushing, yes, but energised. Anxiety is another emotion I’m bringing to the situation. Just like I can bring elation onto the dance floor, or anger to the gym. But these other feelings have nothing to do with stress. They are separate emotions.

Stress isn’t bad. Chronic stress is.

The important thing about stress is that it should be temporary. Just like physical stress like exercise can make you stronger, psychological stress like deep conversations or riding a motorcycle can get you activated, feeling more alive. But if you keep stressing yourself, lifting weights every day, or endlessly rushing from activity to activity, you will inevitably break down.

The main problem is not the break down. But over the years of chronic stress your body has practiced becoming stressed. It now reacts to all sorts of situation with stress, you made it a habit. To break that habit, and return to your base level of stress, you have to physically retrain your body. Which can take years.

The trap we fall into is so much easier to see for me now, after my cold shower meditation. Because I love that energised feeling. Being alive. Elated. It’s addictive.

Just like other addictive things I can only enjoy them if I only rarely indulge. I can get stressed. But then I have to relax and not rush. I have to learn to enjoy being calm. Being lazy.

I assume this a tough thing to learn. Based on the ever increasing reporting on stress-related problems in our society.

Let’s not get excited today. Let’s have a calm and quiet day. And enjoy being not stressed.