This is NOT a typical post about stress. We don’t tell you that stress is bad; because it’s not. We don’t tell you that stress is your enemy; because it isn’t.
We’re telling you that stress is awesome! It rocks! It’s your friend.
If you believe us, it might one day save your life.
It’s All in Your Head
The harm caused by stress stems from how we perceive it. It’s not stress that kills, it’s how we think about it that can bring on a premature heart attack. That’s right! A recent study suggests that, the negative things we believe about stress is far more harmful to our bodies than the stress itself.
Here’s the Fascinating Proof
In 2013, an article was published regarding a study of 30,000 adults in the United States. The study took place over eight years. It examined relationships between the ways participants viewed stress and the effects of stress on their bodies.
Participants who believed that stress was harmful, and who also experienced what they perceived as high levels of stress, had a 43% higher risk of dying. On the other hand, participants who experienced what they perceived as high stress, but did not believe stress was harmful, had the lowest risk of dying. 1
The take away? Stress isn’t killing us.
Our Thoughts Can Kill Us
The study teaches us that what we believe about stress is incredibly important. Grab some virtual popcorn and watch this TED talk by Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University. She’s an engaging presenter and explains the study quite well.
Save Your Life: Create a Shift in Paradigm
So, if changing the way we view stress is a life saver, we need to make those shifts in paradigm now. Because we’ve practiced negative thought patterns for years, we might need a strategy to ease the transition. We think this 4-step approach is effective.
- Catch the negative self-talk, or
- Identify the symptoms of negative beliefs.
- If you identify the symptoms, implement temporary stress relief, then
- Replace the internal dialogue.
Step 1. Catch the Negative Self-Talk
The first step to changing our thought patterns is to catch ourselves in the negative self-talk. Unfortunately, some of us are too familiar with the internal language. “This place is killing me,” or “He’s giving me high blood pressure.”
If you catch the talk in progress, before you begin experiencing the symptoms of stress, good for you. Skip to Step 4. There, you will find some replacement language to help you develop new beliefs about stress.
If you are already experiencing the symptoms associated with viewing stress in a negative manner, go to step 2.
Step 2. Identify the Symptoms of Negative Beliefs
If you can’t catch the negative voice, you can surely catch the symptoms of viewing stress negatively. Here are four categories with a range of examples.
Click around. Some will be all too familiar, and some might make you chuckle with recognition.
Step 3. Implement Temporary Stress Relief
No one said the pain wasn’t real. We’re saying the cause is different than what you think. If you’re experiencing harmful symptoms, do something now that will afford you temporary relief.
- Delegate duties
- Keep a positive attitude
- Bring in some plants
- Make to-do lists
- Exercise at lunch
- Keep hydrated
- Eat a healthy lunch
- Engage in mindfulness activities
- Love a pet
- Get outdoors
- Play games
- Make future plans
- Surround yourself with positive people
- Help someone else
- Find a healthy escape
Step 4. Replace the Internal Dialogue
As we learned from the study, if we don’t view stress as harmful, our bodies don’t go through some of the damaging physiological stress responses. With that knowledge, let’s arm ourselves with canned responses designed to affirm our positive beliefs about stress. This way, we’ll be prepared the next time we catch ourselves in negative self-talk.
For example, when we feel stress we might say to ourselves:
When we feel physiological reactions like an increased heartbeat, we might say,
Choose the Laughs
When we implement positive self-talk about stress, we might just free our bodies from harm and even fatality. For some people, this shift in paradigm could be the difference between a premature heart attack and some laughs in their old age.
1. Crum, A.J. Salovey, P. & Achor, S. (2013) Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 104(4), 716 PMID 23437923.
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