I recently read that stress can make us stronger, smarter, and happier.
How can this be possible? Haven’t we been taught that stress wears us down energetically and emotionally, creates sleeplessness, and can even cause disease in some cases?
The word “stress” is one of those general terms that can encompass a vast terrain of affiliated concepts.
It is chronic psychological/emotional stress that is the brand of stress I referred to in my opening question.
However, another expression of stress can keep us sharp and alert to immediate danger, and yet another kind of stress serves as a subconscious alarm system indicating that something specific in your life may need to change.
“Stress isn’t always harmful,” said Kelly McGonigal, a business school lecturer at Stanford and program developer for the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.
A Stanford psychologist, Kelly McGonigal talks about new research indicating that stress can make us stronger, smarter, and happier – if we learn how to open our minds to it.
The initial research on stress mindsets, which was conducted by Stanford psychology Assistant Professor Alia Crum, showed that viewing stress as a helpful part of life, rather than as harmful, is associated with better health, emotional well-being, and productivity at work, even during periods of high stress.
One reason that how you think about stress matters is because it changes how you respond to stress. Viewing stress as harmful leads people to cope in ways that are less helpful, whether it’s getting drunk to “release” stress, procrastinating to avoid stress, or imagining worst-case scenarios. One study found that simply having the goal to avoid stress increased the long-term risk of outcomes like depression, divorce, and getting fired, by increasing people’s reliance on harmful coping strategies.
In contrast, viewing stress more positively seems to encourage people to cope in ways that help them thrive, whether it’s tackling the source of stress, seeking social support, or finding meaning in it.
What to do with this information?
Here are three positive beliefs about stress you can adopt:
- Remember that we all have to deal with stress, it doesn’t mean that you’re damaged goods.
- Learn and grow from the stress in your life.
- Think about stress as useful, and harness its energy to propel you into positive action.
Basically, what all this entails is that you reshape what stress means to you. Simply change your attitude about stress, and it can start to work for you.
That said, incessant worrying is another story altogether and serves no useful purpose.
What should you do if something horrible happens?
Don’t stress it. First, remember that you have probably lived through worse and that in this moment, you are okay.
Second, come to acceptance with the horrible thing that happened. Internal acceptance isn’t about endorsing or agreeing with any event that’s happening, it’s about acknowledging and objectively observing, and then relieving yourself of any resistance to it.
From this calmer state of mind, we can see more clearly and therefore act more effectively and less reactively.
We don’t have to fight Life and everything in it.
6 Easy Steps to Relieve Stress
These are lifestyle practices that will relieve and/or buffer you from stress creating havoc on your emotional well-being:
- Daily meditation (do it twice a day for even more relief)
- Get good sleep (feeling worn-out and tired amplifies stress)
- Good friendships and positive social circles
- Regular exercise (at least four times a week)
- Cut back on alcohol and caffeine (stress and alcohol “feed” each other)
- Walking, separate from your exercise routine (boosts stress-dissolving endorphins)