Rethinking The Way We Look At Stress
Stress is such a normal part of our lives that many of us are not even sure what it means not to be stressed. We can’t even remember how we feel when we are not stressed. Sure, we can enjoy ourselves for a day or two or go on a vacation and feel relaxed, but many of us still feel the pressures of life looming, even while on vacation.
Does this sound like you?
Many of us experience stress related to work, relationships, family life, money, etc. In our society, there is A LOT of pressure. The pressure to be successful, be a good person, pay all your bills, and buy all the things you want, to have a good job and to have a family. How is it possible to NOT be stressed out?
What is Stress?
The first step in reconsidering how we look at stress is to break it down. What is stress? Stress is a bodily response that activates parts of our nervous system to prepare us for action. This is why we may feel our heart pounding faster, feel sweaty, or have shortness of breath when we are feeling stressed. Our body is preparing us for action.
The problem is, in our society, the action is often not a physical action, but rather, an emotional state of stress. So, when our body prepares for this stress and then does not complete a physical action, the stress stays in our body.
The stress mindset is defined as “the extent to which one holds the belief that stress has enhancing consequences for various stress-related outcomes such as performance and productivity, health and wellbeing, and learning and growth (referred to as a “stress-is-enhancing mindset”) or holds the belief that stress has debilitating consequences for those outcomes (referred to as a “stress-is-debilitating mindset”)”. The way we believe stress will impact us makes up our stress mindset.
We know what stress is, and we know there is a lot of it in our society. Now what? What do we do with all this stress? Well, we need to look at our stress mindset. When thinking about your stress, what is your first response? Notice your body. Do your shoulders tense? Does your stomach hurt? Or maybe you notice a sense of excitement? No matter the response, it’s time to notice what you feel when you think of stress. Take some time to identify your stress patterns in your body and behavior.
The goal of rethinking stress is to see stress as the motivator you need to get something done. Whether it be getting a new job or completing your degree, stress is the motivator to get you moving. We want to look at stress as our body’s way of getting us into action.
By changing the way, we talk about our stress and think about our stress, we can change the way we react to stress. We will still have the body response to stress, but we have the opportunity to look at the racing heart as a physical reminder that we are going to do something new and exciting today. This healthy stress helps us to change and respond to our ever-changing society.
One study found that changing your mindset around stress can reduce psychological symptoms of stress and increase work performance. Changing the stress mindset to focus on stress as a helper to enhance our performance reduces the emotional response of feeling overwhelmed and overtaken by stress. This enhancing mindset makes us more productive too!
Changing our thoughts and mindset about stress is helpful and can improve our life and stress levels, but there are times that stress is just too much. If you are feeling stress every day, and it feels like it is crushing you, you need to relieve some of that burden.
I know, that may be wishful thinking in some cases. As much as we want to remove the stress of our mortgage payment, we still need a place to live.
There is likely some area of your life that you can reduce your stress. Many people may say or think that there is nothing I can do about it, but there are many ways to reduce stress by resting or asking for help.
You may not have the freedom to quit your job or take a vacation, but noticing the areas where you are feeling the most stress and making changes in those areas will help adjust your mindset. Stress is our body’s way of alerting that something is needed, and by recognizing the alert as our body’s way of preparing us, we can change the way we see our stress.