You have heard the old saying, “When life gives you lemons…make lemonade,” right?  I certainly grew up hearing that said on occasion.  I always felt like that saying, in general, was pretty sound advice. Rather than dwelling on the negative, it did help to find the positive side of things.

But as I have studied and really dived deep into health and wellness, it turns out there may be more to it.

Stress Defined (Lemons)

The dictionary definition of stress centers around the concept of pressure or tension that results from demanding or adverse situations and circumstances. (1)  Stress can be mental, physical, emotional or any combination of the above.

In terms of survival, how we respond to the “demanding or adverse situation” is crucial.

House is on fire…get out in a hurry.  Mean dog chasing you…run faster.

Those are both really stressful situations and of course, how we respond in the moment may directly impact our survival. But did you know that how we handle stress is important to our long-term health?  It is!  And, what I find fascinating, is that women and men will process and handle stress quite differently…but regardless of gender, when lemons start popping up in our life we need know what to do with them.

In the examples above, the stressor was something that needed immediate attention but then could be de-escalated.  What about stress that happens repeatedly or over a long period of time?  When it seems like life is bringing you lemons by the bushel on a conveyor belt and there is no shut off switch to stop the belt? What do we do then?  Both the immediate stressor and the aftermath need some attention.

Is all stress (lemons) bad?

Not at all.  Sometimes stress can be a good thing.  I am not a huge fan of speaking in public, many people aren’t.  And for years, I would do anything I could to not be in a situation to do it.  The thought of it made my heart race, I would literally feel sick for days leading up to the event, and the fear that I would sound like a fool was just too much to bear.  But then…I did it.  I gave a small talk to a group of women about pelvic floor issues.  And I survived!  Then I did it again, with less fear leading up to it and I survived again!  The stress leading up to the talk was able to be channeled into preparation and creation of something that I really wanted to do and truly ended up enjoying.  Embracing the situation and the stress actually made me better at it! Embracing the stress allowed me to serve women by teaching and educating on topics that I was passionate about. It gave me a new way to impact others.  So even though it was stressful, the benefits were so much greater!!

On the flip side, stress is more likely to be harmful when it

***feels against your will

***seems out of your control

***seems to have no meaning (2)

When you are put in a situation that you feel you can’t change or control and there seems to be no purpose or greater meaning behind it, that can be a really hard place to be.  These are the instances when stress can be harmful.

What happens to our body when life hands us a lemon?

Okay, we have a some sort of stress going on.  Now what?  This is so cool…

When your brain perceives a stressor of any kind, it triggers a cascade of hormone production in different parts of the brain which ultimately stimulates your adrenal glands to release cortisol, as well as epinephrine and norepinephrine.

Those sound familiar right? Cortisol is often called the “stress hormone” and epinephrine/norepinephrine are known for evoking the “fight or flight” response.

So our bodies are getting prepared for us to be able to physically and mentally handle the challenge at hand.  How amazing are they?!?  This isn’t the post for details on the stress response, but suffice it to say, it has wide-reaching implications for all of our body systems.  That is why having a way to deal with stress is so important.  It literally can make a world of difference in our health.

HEEEYYYY LAAADIEEEES…Find your tribe

Can you guess one of the best ways that women handle stress?  That’s right.  We get together with other ladies.  In times of stress, we often find ourselves seeking out other women.  This is by design and like I have said before is just so fascinating.  In response to some stressors, oxytocin (another hormone, “the bonding hormone”) promotes affiliation-seeking behaviors.  If we are met with a positive response and feel included or received by the women we are seeking out, then our bodies respond by lowering the epinephrine and cortisol levels=>we feel less stress! (3) Women are designed to be social and when we feel supported and safe, our health can actually benefit.

What’s the take-away?

***Not all stress is bad, finding the positive and embracing the stressful situation can sometimes actually make you stronger and happier

***Long-term or recurrent stress, if not well managed, can have far-reaching health implications

***Women need other women. It is one of the primary ways we buffer stress.  So if someone reaches out to you, be kind…remember that stress is lowered by a feeling of support but can actually be made worse when you feel rejected.  So build your tribe and gather your social circle, and be nice to other ladies doing the same thing. And if you are the one seeking support, just know that as you find it, you are making a great stride in your health and wellness.

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1. Oxford English Dictionary
2. Parker, C. Stanford News. May 7, 2015
3. Taylor, SE. 2006. Current Directions in Psychological Science.