Why change how you look at stress?
There is mounting evidence that if you can change how you look at stress, it has the potential to affect your health in positive ways. This is not endorsing a “think positive” mentality. Rather, it’s about looking at stress differently and how that can positively affect your health.
You see it all the time. “Stress is the number one killer,” or “Stress is the contributing factor to heart disease or stroke.” You read about stress hormones such as cortisol or adrenaline, and their role in people getting sick or having panic attacks.
Society buys into it for various reasons. Perhaps it’s the scientific research that backs up many of these claims. (They’re not wrong.) You often hear stories on the news that corroborate this perspective.
Certainly when stressful events happen in life, you don’t always feel good about them. There is good stress, sometimes, such as getting married or landing a job. There’s the bad stress: a forgotten deadline, being in a car crash, having an argument with a colleague or partner, to name a few.
Your mindset determines how you deal with the stress in your life. It determines how we cope with a lot of things, really.Your mindset determines how you deal with the stress in your life. Click To Tweet
Perhaps you deal with stress by raiding the cabinets and seeking comfort food. Some people bite their nails. Others clam up and nearly stop functioning all together. Others might go out and get exercise. Some meditate or get a massage.
The way you look at things matters
Why all the variation in how people deal with their stress?
It’s all in how people think about it. Some people view it as something to be avoided as much as possible. When they encounter it, they try to mitigate through eating, indulging an addictive habit, not dealing with the problem at all, or engaging in other self-destructive behaviors.
Other people view stress as a challenge. When life’s challenges happen, they tackle the events with an arsenal of tools. They deal with the problem head-on, and then release that stress in healthy ways.
Kelly McGonigal on making stress your friend
Adopt a new view
It’s the people who view stress as an ongoing challenge, rather than an ongoing problem that live longer and lead more healthful lives. This is the stuff of grit and tolerance when it comes to life’s ups and downs.
There are studies that show how people who view stress as a challenge, have better overall health. Often, it doesn’t matter how much stress. If they feel equipped to rise to the challenge, they’ll do it without suffering negative health consequences.
The people who view stress as a challenge perhaps learned that skill somewhere along the marathon of life. They might have always thought this way. However, there are those who have to learn and adopt this skill later on. I did.
By changing the paradigm, by changing the thought processes, you can improve your well-being and health. The first way to do that is to start thinking about stress as “hurdles to be overcome on a racetrack.” You can train for them and learn to jump over them more easily. You can develop the tools and stamina to overcome them.
It’s all about the “growth mindset.”
Put it in perspective
Next, think about the grand scheme of life. Can you recall a specific problem on this day five years ago? Can you predict what you’ll be doing in five years?
Over the span of ten years, you’ll face many daily challenges, but most do not come up on your radar after the fact. Nor is there a way to really predict what obstacles you’ll face later on.
From that perspective, you can tell yourself that you already possess all the internal tools and necessary skills to face whatever challenges that come your way – you certainly have up to this point. You’ll come out on the other side wiser and better-able to deal with any obstacle.
To be sure, mindfulness and meditation certainly help with stress levels. It’s a documented fact. Slower breathing naturally stimulates the relaxation response in the body. The more you do it, the more it helps.
Meditation can also help you to “become an observer.” There is the “you” that’s thinking the thoughts, and the “you” that is watching yourself think those thoughts. The latter “you” is the one who can help yourself detach from challenges and obstacles and see them as something that will pass.
And well, I can help with that.
Once you’ve done the mental work, you can begin to find other ways of helping to manage stress in your life.
To be sure, anytime your heart rate goes up due to a stressful event – such as encountering turbulence in a jet plane – it’s important to release that energy so that it doesn’t build up.
Going for a walk, taking a run, getting out in nature, playing a sport are all great ways of redirecting that energy that builds up.
Find other healthy ways to release that energy
Everyone has a way that they like to help release stress. You probably already know what it is. No, getting on a screen to play video games does not reduce stress in healthy ways. It can contribute to it.
Some ideas if you need some include reading a book, journal writing, being creative, listening to calming music, spending time with animals, meeting family or friends who energize you, and more.
How do you cope with stress? What are your favorite ways to deal with it?