We hear over and over again that stress is unhealthy. And all that talk makes us, well, stressed.
Scientist Hans Selye made a lot of discoveries during his research on stress back in the 1930s. His science was based on torturing rats. He put them in tiny containers and solitary confinement. He would blast them with noise and force them to swim, shocked them, drugged them, severed their spinal cords, alongside other terrible things. The results of this toture reduced muscle tone, caused failure of the rats’ immune systems, and even death for many of the rats.
This research is what our knowledge of stress was based on until recently.
This may be equivalent to someone who has experienced a great amount of trauma, such as surviving a kidnapping, terrorist attack, or something similar.
This isn’t the sort of stress we’re used to in our modern daily lives. You usually aren’t being tortured and feeling stressed about it.
Instead, in your day to day life, you’re dealing with different types of stress, such as:
- Your job
- The political climate
- Your kids
- Your aging parents
- Various work tasks
This is modern-day stress, and it isn’t really comparable to the sort of stress that the rats were under.
The day to day stress is so different. It’s not survival stress. It’s not harming us the way we think it is.
In fact, this type of stress isn’t harmful at all… unless you think it is…
Modern-day stress isn’t a problem unless you think it is
According to Kelly Mcgonigal (the author of The Upside Of Stress), the belief that stress is bad for you, is the 15th leading cause of death in the United States. This is above cancer, HIV/AIDs, and homcide.
If you choose not to believe that stress is harmful to you, then you’ll have a completely different perspective on it. You’ll have a completely different reaction and experience to stress, causing it to serve you to perform better and be happier (yes, be happier!).
People who believe stress isn’t a problem actually live longer than those who have no stress at all.
This is because people who have healthy stress in their lives have more purpose, more drive, more goals. In short, they have something to live for. They’re “in the arena” as the saying goes.
Then there’s this new study from the book worth mentioning, too…
In a more recent experiment on stress, Karen Parker of Stanford University did a study on monkeys that tested their stress. She separated baby monkeys from their mothers for 1 hour everyday. She predicted that this would make them more dysfuctional and emotionally unstable. Instead, the exact opposite was true. The monkeys were more curious, more resilient, and ever had more courage and self control all the way into their adulthood. They also had larger prefrontal cortices.
So, how can you go from trying to avoid stress and believing that it’s bad, to having an entirely new perspective on it? The very first step it to redefine stress.
Stress is as an emotion and a sensation. I define stress as an emotion in your body caused by the belief that something outside of you is important and needs your focused attention. The important thing to note is that it’s not the circumstances around us causing the stress, it’s our beliefs about those things.
Some of the characteristics of stress that you’ll notice when your sympathetic nervous system kicks in are:
- Tightness in your body
- Chest pounding
- Your heart speeding up
- Increased alertness and focus
- Brain and body are activated and sharp
This may not sound good when you read it, but actually none of these things are a problem. When your body is alert and focused like this, you can actually use this to your advantage. It can be a great thing to have those stress hormones on your side working for you!
Sports are a great example of this.
How To Manage Your Stress
In the book, The Upside Of Stress, Mcgonigal talks about two types of stress responses:
- The fight or flight response
- The challenge response
One of these responses is helpful, the other is actually causing more harm than good…
The Fight Or Flight Response
The first response is the fight or flight response.
This is the “threat” response.
You get very afraid and you think that you either need to run or fight whatever you’re facing.
This is the response that is NOT useful.
It causes more harm than good.
The Challenge Response
The second response, known as the challenge response, is the one that helps you focus and strategize.
The challenge response is a mindset. It’s a response to stress without fear, worry, or resistance. You accept the stress as if you’re in the game (to use the sports analogy from above).
This response allows you to problem solve and excel at whatever you’re doing.
This is the response that can give your life more meaning and allow you to increase your focus on what is important to you.
With the challenge response, you use “performance stress” to your advantage to overcome obstacles.
Tips On How To Manage Your Body
Now that you know the difference between extreme stress and modern-day stress and the types of responses that will serve you or not, I want to give you 8 practical tips you can use to help you manage your stress.
1. Sleep It Off:
2. Visualise Calm:
3. Breathe Deeply:
4. Run A Bath:
Aim for 8 hours’ sleep a night. I get impatient if I don’t have enough sleep, especially after a long flight when I’m trying to readjust to a new time zone. Try to go to bed at the same time every night to train your body to wind down on cue. Our body is thrown into chaos by disrupted sleep patterns. Lack of sleep takes its toll on the skin, too, as this is when the body has time to regroup and heal itself.
Meditating before I go to sleep is really helpful and visualisation can be a powerful tool, too. Close your eyes and choose a place – a holiday location or hideaway – or a soothing colour. Having a calming image that you can conjure up during stressful times will help train your mind to deflect anxiety.
We often forget this simple act, but increasing oxygen helps is to think more clearly. Focussing on the ‘in’ and ‘out’ breath will focus thoughts and calm the mind. Make sure to breath in from the bottom of your stomach before letting your breath out again.
It’s pretty hard to hold on to stress in a bath. I add a few drops of lavender essential oil to boost relaxation and add to the calming atmosphere. Focus on the good is my mantra.
5. Do A Tech Detox:
6. Quiet The Mind:
7. Work It Out:
8. Listen To Music:
Being constantly ‘on’ and available impacts upon your ability to relax. Making a conscious decision to switch off gives your brain a break from information-processing.
Download a mindfulness app to train your mind to be better able to cope with stress and ‘silence the chatter’ of ongoing anxiety.
Getting the blood pumping with a high-intensity short workout will help get the body back into clear-headed order, thanks to the oxygenation and the rush of endorphins. It’s hard to think about anything when you are working out.
Music is a mood changer. Play something that you love – it can really bring you up. To re energise, put on a track that gets you dancing. And to be peaceful, play something beautiful. Whatever floats your boat.
Tips On How To Manage Your Mind
Recap on the steps
1. Write down everything that’s going on in your mind.
2. Separate out the facts from the thoughts
3. Notice your brain go to the worst case scenario
4. Give yourself “worry time” if you need it
5. Add constraints to your media input (TV, podcasts, etc)
6. Don’t escape your life with food, alcohol, or shopping
7. Decide how you want to think and feel ahead of time
8. Pay attention to your thoughts
9. Focus on what you can control and practice self care
10. Look for positive ways to connect with people
11. Pay attention to your feelings driving your actions
12. Acknowledge the resistance during this transition
13. REMEMBER: Circumstances are neutral and that means you have all the power
14. Whatever your problem is… Personal Development is the solution
15. You Got This!
A Final Thought
From the new research, I do think that some stress can be good for you and hopefully by implementing the tips above, you’ll be able to use the stress as a tool to help make your life better.
A bonus tip would be to do things that give pleasure or bring peace – cooking, gardening or curling up with a book. See friends and have a laugh whenever you can. Life is short, so have fun!
If you change your mindset about stress and believe that it’s actually there to benefit you, you can have a more purposeful life.
Don’t avoid your stress. Don’t run away from it.
Instead, accept your stress and use it to your advantage. It’s performance stress and it’s there to help you.