Stress! Many of us mutter this word through pursed lips, our heads hung low with shame and worry. We say to ourselves, “Why am I so stressed? I know it is bad for me, and yet, I can’t seem to stop it…” Well, Thriver, lift your head up, because stress is essential to life! Stress is what happens when we respond and react to any demand placed upon us and there is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes stress can evolve into “distress” and we want to prevent that.
There are three components of distress:
- Nature of the stressor
- Perception of stress
- Resistance to stress
From these, we have three opportunities to reduce our stress. Here’s how.
Identify the cause
The intensity and duration of stress changes how it affects us. A diagnosis of a life threatening disease, for instance, is an intense stressor, which is understandably going to cause significant stress. Conversely, the repeated stress of listening to someone in your household yell from room to room every day can also be significantly disruptive to your inner calm. Recognizing the source of stress gives us the opportunity to remove or minimize it. If we can’t do that, we can turn our focus on our reaction to stress, which is the next component.
Take on a fresh perspective
Much of our reaction to stress can be changed by how we perceive it. A wonderful example of this was a study published this year in the journal Personality and Social Psychology. Yale University researchers evaluated the stress attitudes of 400 employees at an international financial institution. Those who viewed stress as debilitating had worse work performance, unhappiness, and poorer health. Those who viewed stress as beneficial had greater life satisfaction, better health, and superior work performance. A subset of those employees who viewed stress as debilitating were shown a series of three minute videos about the benefits of stress. After one week, those employees reported a significant increase in feelings of wellbeing and demonstrated improved work performance.
The third step to solving stress is found in our resistance to stress. We are more resistant to the ill effects of stress when we are well rested, eating nutritiously, exercising, and being mindful. Many studies have demonstrated that mindfulness-based stress reduction (a form of meditation) results in significant improvements in psychological and physical quality of life. Sugar intake amplifies our physiological response (cortisol levels) to psychosocial stress, while maintaining a low sugar diet reduces our stress response. Low intensity exercise reduces circulating cortisol levels, which is significant because cortisol is often referred to as the stress hormone.
While stress may at times seem overwhelming, there is much we can do to minimize its impact on our wellbeing. Managing our stress is an opportunity to transform stress into a healing force propelling us towards exuberant rejuvenation.