Research shows that we can actually use stress to improve our health and well-being. That's how.
These are stressful times. Because of everything we have been through in the first five months of 2020, many of us are worried about our health, and also about our future.
When it comes to stress, warnings abound telling us that stress itself is harmful to our health and it could also make us more susceptible to disease.
Fortunately, there is an alternative approach: we can actually use this stress for improve our health and well-being. Over a decade of research suggests that it is not the type or amount of stress that determines its impact on our lives. Instead, it is there our mindset about stress that matters most.
In a study of 30.000 people, those with the highest stress levels were 43% more likely to die if they believed the stress was bad for their health. In contrast, those who experienced a high level of stress but did not consider it harmful were less likely to die than any other group in the study.
We have the power to change our stress mentality.
In this article, I'm not talking about how to eliminate stress, but I urge you to experience stress in a whole new way.
Changing our stress mindset may not happen instantly, but it is possible to shift our reaction to stress.
Based on many studies based on stress management I am telling you about 3 steps to take advantage of its benefits, while minimizing its harmful effects.
1 Recognize stress
The first step is to simply see and recognize the stress. Consciously and deliberately labeling stress shifts neural activity from the amygdala - the center of emotion and fear - to the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive control and planning.
In other words, when we take a moment to acknowledge our stress, we move from a fearful and reactive place to a position where we can be. reflective e certain.
Recognizing one's stress also helps us to overcome the so-called "ironic mental processing". When we try to avoid thinking about something - say, how stressed we are by a problem - our brain tries to help us not think about it, constantly checking. if we are thinking about it.
Basically, our brains keep sending us some sort of notification and asking us “Are you thinking about that problem?” Which, of course, makes us think about the problem itself. So not only does avoiding or denying our stressors not work, it is actually counterproductive as we end up using enormous mental energy to try and suppress these thoughts.
Recognizing stress is also an opportunity to understand what's at the center. Are you more worried about getting sick, or are you worried about a vulnerable loved one? Are you more stressed by the balance between working from home and family responsibilities, or by the loss of a job?
Once you have determined what specifically stresses you, you can also examine the your reactions to these stressors.
What are the emotions you feel: frustration, sadness, anger? And what do you notice in your body: Do you feel a feeling of tension in your neck and shoulders or are you having difficulty sleeping?
These are all questions that help us recognize stress.
2 Own your stress
The next step is to embrace, or "own," your stress. Why would we want to embrace stress in our life at times like this? We only get stressed out about the things we care about. By embracing our stress, we connect to positive motivation or personal value behind our stress. If we deny or avoid our stress, we may actually deny or disconnect from the things we care about and treasure.
To connect with the values and goals that underlie your stress, try completing this sentence about what was specifically stressing you in the first step:
“I'm stressed out / stressed out about [insert stressor agent] because I really care about…”.
This simple but effective exercise helps us take ownership of our stress.
I have prepared this easy form for you to fill out:
3 Use your stress
Connecting to the core values that underlie your stress prepares you for the third e most essential step: use or exploit stress for achieve your goals e connect more deeply with the things that matter most.
Ask yourself: Are your typical responses in line with the values underlying your stress? If you are worried that your family will get sick because you are concerned about their health, is this the best way to protect your family?
Think about how you could change your response to this stress to better facilitate your goals and purpose.
There is so much happening right now that we cannot control. But - as many are noting - there are also unprecedented opportunities. Some psychologists argue that true transformative change can only happen during stress or crises. The trick is to channel the stress like energy to make the most of this time.
Trying to use our stress in this time of fear may seem overly optimistic or even impossible. But consider the alternative.
Failing to accept our stress only creates more stress.