The good news? You actually need stress to stay fully vital and alive. Stress can be your friend.
You can use the natural stress you feel when you start planning your next campaign for reaching those stars.
The not-so-good news? If you’re telling yourself an unhealthy story about your stress, it can have several negative effects, causing stressful times to be much more miserable than they have to be.
More good news. It’s easy to learn to tell a different story about the inevitable stress we all experience. Learn to use that stress to help fuel your passions.
Stress and Death
Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal is a well-known expert in the areas of health, happiness, and personal success.
In her wildly popular TED Talk, she discusses a recent University of Wisconsin 8-year stress study involving 30,000 adults. The research results were a little shocking.
“People who experienced a lot of stress, but did not view stress as harmful, … had the lowest risk of dying than anyone in the study, including people who had relatively little stress.”
If you’re stressed, and believe stress is harmful to your health, then you’re at higher risk for health problems, even dying, according to this study.
People in the study had a 43% higher risk of dying at the end of a very stressful year. However, that was true only for the people who believed stress was harmful.
Guess what? The folks who didn’t associate stress as being bad had the lowest risk of dying … even lower than people who hadn’t had to deal with much stress.
If you’re stressed, even really stressed, and telling yourself it’s OK, or even better — that it’s good for you — your chances for a fast recovery (not to mention staying alive) are much higher.
Check it Out
Top Causes of Death (U.S.)
- Heart disease (596,339)
- Cancer (575,313)
- Respiratory diseases (143,382)
- Cerebrovascular diseases (128,931)
- Accidents (122,777)
- Alzheimer’s disease (84,691)
- Diabetes (73,282)
- Influenza (53,667)
- Nephritis (45,731)
- Suicide (38,285)
- Septicemia (35,539)
- Liver disease (33,539)
- Hypertension (27,477)
- Parkinson’s disease (23,107)
- Stress Beliefs (20,231)
Your beliefs about stress are a game-changer. “When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress.”
Some of the physical symptoms of higher stress: increased heart rate, faster breathing, maybe some extra sweating.
What if you thought these physical signs actually meant that your body is preparing you to successfully deal with an exciting challenge? Rather than a life-threatening attack.
Re-Train That Brain
You can learn to think differently. That pounding heart? Preparing you for action. Faster breathing? Your brain is receiving more oxygen. Good!
Thoughts? Depends what you’re thinking … Freeze! I’m in life-threatening danger. Or, OK, I’m ready, let’s go!
Things to tell yourself, to re-train your brain: My body is helping me handle this situation. I know how to deal with this. Yes I can.
“Your body believes you, and your stress response becomes healthier.”
Here’s the deal. The brain believes what you tell it … why wouldn’t you explain to yourself the healthier, life-affirming facts rather than an old story that isn’t even true?
The Super-Cool Stress Thing
Increased stress levels prompt you to make more social connections. We reach out when we’re in trouble, don’t we? I sure do. This is actually part of your biological stress response.
You do this because, as part of the cascade of things that happen when you feel stressed, the neurohormone Oxytocin is released.
Oxytocin urges you to reach out to others. “When life is difficult, your stress response wants you to be surrounded by people who care about you.”
Not everyone is surrounded by people who care about them, however. (Which, of course, is pretty stressful.) Which is why having a good coach or therapist can be very helpful during stressful experiences and times.
One very cool thing about the stress response? “When you reach out to others under stress, either to seek support, or to help someone else, you release more of this hormone [Oxytocin], your stress response becomes healthier, and you actually recover faster from stress.”
“Your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience. And that mechanism is human connection.”
The biological stress response is what it is. You can choose to view the inevitable stress of living as healthy. Or not.
What you tell yourself about it can literally save your life.
Using Mindful Awareness to Tell a Different Story
Let’s start with the silly stuff, like freaking out when you feel challenged by a slow driver or having to wait your turn in line.
First, simply notice when you fall into an automatic fight-flight-freeze response. What are some of your triggers? Find an (easy) one that gets you riled up.
Ask yourself, What’s happening in my body? What thoughts are racing in my brain? Gosh, where’s all my mature calm energy?!
Next, notice what you’re telling yourself while you’re standing in line. Are you instantly in fight mode, ready to take on that big bad driver? Do you sigh, and fall back into victim mode? Why does this always happen to me? Oh my.
Notice. Just pay attention.
Then. Challenge your story. Is that slow driver really out to get you? Are you actually being personally threatened by having to wait your turn?
Start telling yourself what’s really true. It’s OK. I am safe. No need to get fired up.
Repeat. Changes can happen very quickly when we just pay attention.
Now, how about managing the big stuff? Those times when we are really truly stressed for very good reasons.
Build on the foundation you’ve already established: pay attention, listen to your story, challenge your thinking, discern what’s actually true.
Next, gather your support team. Use the Oxytocin urges, reach out to trustworthy people, remind yourself that this is a situation you can handle.
Mindfully use the energy of your new story as rocket fuel for going big, and living large.