A Charmed Life
Her daughter chats up the Queen of England on Christmas morning, she runs away to Paris with her husband for the weekend, and she makes beer out of wild nettles. The Kitchn has featured not one, but two of her kitchens – one in Portland and one in Bavaria. Oh and she surfs – on couches.
If you’re like me, you’re tempted to think my friend Ariana – the mama behind And Here We Are – is “lucky” or “charmed.” Nope.
The thing that makes Ariana different is not that life likes her more, it’s that she’s intentional.
In her new book, Pruned: Blossoming Through Life’s Difficult Seasons, Ariana explains how she uses difficult circumstances to get closer to her “dream life,’ and how we can do it, too.
“I am not talking about laws of attraction, manifesting or The Secret here,” she writes, and it’s true. I know the things Ariana writes about work because I’ve experienced them in my life.
Difficult job transitions and an autoimmune disorder don’t exactly seem like the fast track to living the dream, but it has been for my family. Somehow we found ways to use those “setbacks” to get closer to the life we wanted, and we ended up with our dream – buying a farm – about 5 years earlier than we expected to!
I’d hoped to share some of what I’ve learned with you at some point, but she does it so. much. better. than I could have, and she goes further than I have in my personal journey.
Of the many helpful things . . .
I learned from Ariana, one was this TED talk she mentions: How To Make Stress Your Friend. In it, Kelly McGonigal explains how what we BELIEVE about stress impacts how much damage it does to our bodies.
She cites a University of Wisconsin study that tracked 30,000 American adults for eight years. They discovered that participants with a lot of stress had a 43% increased risk of dying — but only if they believed stress was harmful. WHAT?
At first I was like, “No. Just no.” It has to be a junk study, right? Stress is bad! But then she goes into another study conducted at Harvard which found that while we all experience physiological changes during stressful events – increased heart rate for example – it’s the MEANING we give to our physiological experience that determines whether it benefits or hurts us. In other words, we can view stress as inherently harmful, or we can view it as an adaptive response designed to help us through challenging situations.
To demonstrate this, researchers put their subjects into a stressful situation: a public speaking engagement. They split the subjects into three groups and told them three different things:
1. The first group was told that physiological arousal experienced during stressful situations is your body’s way of priming you for optimal performance. It’s a good thing!
2. The second group was told that the best way to cope with stress is to ignore the source of the stress.
3. The third group was told nothing. This was the control group.
What the researchers found was that those who were told stress was “helpful” maintained relaxed blood vessels throughout the event – a very good thing! The diagram below depicts the vascular response of the “control” subjects (top) with the vascular response of the “stress is helpful” subjects (bottom).
Researchers concluded that by changing the meaning people associate with the physiological signals of stress, they were able to break the link between negative experiences and “malignant physiological responses.” (source)
Ultimately, they found that viewing stress as a temporary helper improved physiological health, attention, and performance. (source)
Does this mean we should all become stress junkies? Of course not. Too much of a good thing is still too much – even water can be toxic in high enough doses. But choosing to re-frame the stress response as beneficial can have a huge impact on our health and how well we handle the challenge ahead.
But How Do I?
If you’re thinking, “Yeah, that all sounds good, but I’m not sure how to see stress and/or my circumstances in a positive light,” that’s what this book is all about.
There have been times in my life when I was living breath-to-breath, and my personal pep talks felt fake. I wish I’d had this book to help me gain an authentically hopeful perspective along with the courage to embrace what’s next. It’s a beautifully written guide to inspired living, and it provides many insights worth imparting to our children as they learn to face challenges. Also, it may be helpful to incorporate adaptogens – or herbs that help the body adapt to stress, in your routine.
Where To Buy Pruned
My life is pretty calm right now, but even so I found this book to be incredibly helpful in meeting the mundane, daily challenges of life with small children. In fact, it was so good I’m planning to read it again this month.