Words by Dwight Hill
There’s little doubt that not knowing how to manage stress is ill-advised if you want to lead a healthy and productive life. The negative effects that stress can have on the body are well-documented, and—unchecked—can lead to deleterious outcomes in your personal life.
The common refrain is to avoid stress and to minimize it so that it can’t impact us negatively, but if you’ve been trying your hand at stress evasion without much luck, it might be time to alter your approach. As it turns out, reframing your mindset on stress could hold the major key to conquering it.
Maybe Stress Isn’t As Bad As You Think?
In her 2013 TED Talk, How To Make Stress Your Friend, and later in her 2015 book, The Upside Of Stress, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal put forth a convincing case as to why stress might actually be good for you, and how embracing it (rather than avoiding it) could be an appropriate technique for making you a healthier person.
While we won’t be able to cover the entirety of Doctor McGonigal’s work in just one blog post, the gist of her argument might best be summed up with this quote from the introduction of her book:
“The latest science reveals that stress can make you smarter, stronger, and more successful. It helps you learn and grow. It can even inspire courage and compassion… How you think about stress affects everything from your cardiovascular health to your ability to find meaning in life. The best way to manage stress isn’t to reduce or avoid it, but rather to rethink and even embrace it.”
It’s a fresh approach, especially if you’re the type who has constantly heard about how stress is bad and must be eliminated at all costs. As off-putting as the concept may be to some, it’s backed up by careful examination. In a Rethinking Stress study, researchers determined that, indeed, individuals who were trained to view stress as a positive suffered from fewer psychological complications and had a reduction in their physical stress response.
Then there’s a concept that you may remember hearing from your high school and college biology courses: eustress. According to Psychology Today, the body is well-suited for using stress as a source of strength to overcome obstacles, and stressful events are an opportunity for personal growth — provided we know how to harness them correctly.
Turn Stress Into Motivation
So, how can you change your relationship with stress? It’s all about training your mind to respond differently when faced with stressful events. With time and practice, you can alter your emotional response to the point that stress becomes a beloved buddy as opposed to a hated adversary.
Next time you start to feel the stress mounting, don’t think about it as a threat to your existence. Instead, consider it a challenge for you to overcome. “Bring it on,” you should say to yourself. In doing so, you’ll open yourself to the opportunities stress holds rather than the hazards you fear.
Start to embrace those physical indicators that might come about when stress comes knocking at your door. Feel your razor trembling in your hand on the morning of that big presentation? That’s OK — your body is just getting you ready to knock whatever you have to do out of the park. Your heart is about to beat right out of your chest as you address a crowd? It’s just trying to make sure your brain has enough oxygen to perform at its peak.
As you alter your mindset, you’ll notice that you have control over your stress — not the other way around. Keep performing positive reappraisals, then marvel once you change your thinking, get a handle on this once-mighty foe, and maybe get a good night’s sleep for once.