My freshman year of college floor mate, a short distance track runner who had turned down an acceptance from West Point but still had the discipline to match a military school cadet, had placed a homemade sign above her desk which read:
Pain is the weakness leaving your body.
It is one of those cliché’s that run through fitness circles that I, as a recovering anti-exercise activist (I still hate gyms) used to alternate between mocking and merely ignoring.
But the other day as my DVD trainer (i.e. the trainer leading the way on my new exercise DVD), pointed out that stress is what strengthens our body; I realized that my friend’s sign had within it a kernel of truth. Pain is the weakness leaving the body, and stress is what we need to strengthen us.
Yes, there is good stress and bad stress and like anything in life such a thing as too much stress, but ultimately we tend to talk about stress as a bad thing when really, stress can be good. The stress of a Quarterlife Crisis for example can allows us to become stronger, more centered, more generous, more grounded human beings.
This isn’t a given.
Emotional stress can beat us down and take away our light, just like physical stress can lead to breaks, strains, sprains and other physical injuries.
For example, I recently caught a talk show episode about women with sleeping pill addictions. Most of these women had gone to the doctor with real sleep issues that had spiraled into a physical addiction spurred on by a complex of situation (insomnia) and poor handling by their doctors. Their emotional stress had led to well, more stress.
But watching them me realize how lucky I was that my own dalliance with insomnia led me not to addiction, but to a shift in habits. I’ve learned how to cope with stress through meditation, exercise, and a host of other positive behaviors that I’m sure will serve to help me in the future as I come into contact with more of life’s hiccups.
In other words, this round of emotional stress has made me a stronger human being.
I just haven’t been able to see it because of the pain that comes with it, much as we often don’t feel stronger in the days immediately after a tough workout because the strength is obscured by sore muscles.
Viewing emotional stress, not as a negative, but as a round of emotional weight lifting is an interesting shift in thinking and one that moves us from the role of Victim to Actor. And I for one find that this is a role that I may not relish but can more easily sink my teeth into.
That said, I’d still much rather lay on my couch with a pint of cookie dough ice cream in tow then deal with weight lifting: emotional or otherwise.