There’s no doubt that life comes with stressors. That’s always been the case—from the stress of finding food, clothing, and shelter to financial concerns, relationship issues, and health problems, it’s impossible to avoid stress in life completely.
It’s known that stress can have adverse effects on a person’s mental and physical health, increasing the risk of heart disease, depression, and other conditions.
But are we stressing out too much about stress itself?
Stress May Be Used for Good
Kelly McGonigal, a lecturer at Stanford University and psychologist, teaches people that they can change their mindset about stress to make it more useful and less harmful to them. She cites a study done in which US adults were questioned about their attitudes toward stress and had their health tracked for eight years (Abiola Keller, 2011).
That study determined that people who saw stress as harmful to their health and also reported having high amounts of stress were at a greater risk of dying in the eight monitored years than those who said they didn’t believe stress negatively affected their health (even when they reported high levels of stress).
What does that mean? Kelly McGonigal believes it means that changing your mindset about stress can change how your body reacts to it.
How to Embrace Stress and Use it for Good in Your Life
One aspect of changing your mindset about stress is to give up on focusing and dwelling on a negative event or stressor, going over it repeatedly in your mind. That creates a focus on negativity and can lead to adverse health consequences.
Another aspect is reframing your thinking surrounding stress so that you consider it to be helpful rather than harmful to you. For example, feeling pressure about a deadline can be thought of as a great motivator and reminder to get the project done.
What would happen if you saw stress as what it is: your body’s way of boosting your energy and allowing you to accomplish things? That’s right! Thinking of stress as energy that you can harness and use to do what you want can help you welcome it and give you an advantage.
And believing stress is helpful rather than harmful may actually protect your body from negative health effects.
How to Change Your Mindset on Stress
Every time you find yourself thinking about the stress you’re under, stop and think of or write down three ways you can harness that stress into getting things done.
Visualize the stress in your body as an energy channel and then think about using it to accomplish a goal.
Use positive affirmations to remind yourself that stress’ role in our lives is supposed to be as an aid to escape dangerous situations, not as an enemy to be feared and struggled against.
While it might be hard to change your thinking about stress all at once, it is worth it to do what you can to see stress in a positive light. It could even safeguard your health.
- Abiola Keller, K. L. (2011, Dec. 26). Does the Perception that Stress Affects Health Matter? The Association with Health and Mortality. Retrieved from ncbi.gov: doi: 10.1037/a0026743.