10/24/2012 07:31 am ET Updated Dec 24, 2012

The Benefits of Becoming Aware of Your Stress

Ed was born in the U.S., Deb across the pond in England. We spent years living there, as we had our own TV series in London and taught workshops throughout Europe. But, little by little, the constant grey and rainy weather was bringing us down. We both were getting very irritated by it until we realized how some people get stressed by the rain, while others just get wet!

Stress is usually thought of as an archenemy, something that gets us into difficult situations, makes us irritable, frustrated, panicked, and even physically sick. For instance, imagine you are trying to squeeze some toothpaste out of a tube but you've forgotten to take the top off. What happens? Deb actually did this in one of her more-unaware moments, and the toothpaste soon found another way out -- through the bottom of the tube and all over her.

Now, imagine that the tube of toothpaste is you, under pressure and beginning to experience psychological or emotional stress. But you don't take your lid off, as it were, by recognizing what is happening and making time to relax or deal with your inner conflicts. So what happens to the mental or emotional pressure building up inside you?

The fight-or-flight stress response enables you to respond to danger if, for instance, you are on the front line of a battle or facing a large bear. And even though not many of us are often in those situations, bears do come in many shapes and sizes. Seemingly-unimportant events can cause a stress reaction, as the brain is unable to tell the difference between real and imagined threats. When you focus on your concern about what might happen it can play as much havoc with your hormones and chemical balance as it does in a real situation. Try remembering a gruesome scene from a horror movie and you'll feel your back or stomach muscles contract. The images are just in your mind, yet they trigger an instant response in your body.

We all respond differently to circumstances: A divorce may be high on the list of stressors for one person but it may be a welcome relief to another. Life issues that we are all subject to are stressors for some but not for others. The difference lies in our response, for although we may have little or no control over the circumstances we are dealing with, we do have control over our reaction to them.

In other words, the cause of stress may not be the external circumstances, such as having too many demands and not enough time to fill them. It is more likely to be our perception of the circumstances as overwhelming, and our perception of our ability to cope (albeit unconscious), as when we feel stretched beyond what we perceive ourselves to be capable of.

What we believe will color our every thought, word and action. As cell biologist Bruce Lipton says in The Biology of Belief:

Our responses to environmental stimuli are indeed controlled by perceptions, but not all of our learned perceptions are accurate. Not all snakes are dangerous! Yes, perception "controls" biology, but... these perceptions can be true or false. Therefore, we would be more accurate to refer to these controlling perceptions as beliefs. Beliefs control biology!

In other words, thinking that it is our work, family or lifestyle that is causing us stress and that if we could only change these in some way then we would be fine is seeing the situation from the wrong perspective. Rather, it is the belief that something out there is causing us stress that is causing the stress. And although changing the circumstances certainly may help, invariably, no matter what we do, it is only a change within our belief system and perception of ourselves that will make the biggest difference.

Stress can really be a good friend, as it shows us exactly where we are not paying attention to the perception we have of our capabilities, to our own needs, to honoring our priorities, and to fundamental relaxation and meditation techniques. So, if you feel yourself getting stressed, turn it into gratitude that it is reminding you to stop and take 10 minutes to breathe and chill. Change the voice in your head from "I can't" to "I can." Find an affirmation that works for you in order to shift perceptions and belief patterns and to reinforce your strengths. Favorites are: "My mind is at ease and I am capable of doing everything," or "With every breath I am more relaxed and flowing through my day with ease."

How can you make stress your friend? Do comment below. You can receive notice of our blogs every Tuesday by checking Become a Fan at the top.

For more by Ed and Deb Shapiro, click here.

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Your Body Speaks Your Mind: A four-week webinar (online course) with Ed and Deb Shapiro, to learn how repressed, denied, or ignored thoughts and feelings are linked to specific body parts and illness. Starts Oct. 25 but you can join in and download classes anytime.

Meditation -- The Best Friend You Will Ever Have: A four-week webinar (online course) with Ed and Deb Shapiro, on discovering the greatest friend you could have: meditation. Starts Nov. 5, but you can join in and download classes anytime.

See our award-winning book: BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors Jack Kornfield, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Byron Katie and many others.

Deb is the author of the award-winning YOUR BODY SPEAKS YOUR MIND, Decoding the Emotional, Psychological, and Spiritual Messages That Underlie Illness.

Our three meditation CDs: Metta -- Loving kindness and Forgiveness; Samadhi -- Breath Awareness and Insight; and Yoga Nidra -- Inner Conscious Relaxation, are available at: