By Amelia Harvey
It’s likely you’ve heard about the harmful effects of stress and you probably take measures (whether they’re healthy or unhealthy) to keep stress to a minimum in your life. But what if one of your best defenses against the negative impacts of stress was changing your mindset around stress and instead of seeing it as harmful, you saw it in a more positive light.
This new school of thought about stress is spear headed Kelly McGonigal, a researcher from Stanford university who has shared her findings in a enthralling TED talk and her recently published book, The Upside of Stress. McGonigal suggest three key mindset shifts that her research has shown can meditate the negative effects of stress.
Mindset Shift 1: Perceive stress as extra energy
Next time you’re feeling stress, become aware of your physiological response – as adrenalin pumps through your body, you’ll notice your heart rate increases, breathing quickens and you start to sweat a little. Instead of trying to avoid or reduce these responses, see them as a burst of extra energy to help you take positive action.
Mindset Shift 2: Perceive stress as a way to increase resilience
Every time you’re under stress, your brain is learning new coping skills. Research shows that people who have endured extreme stress from physical or emotional hardship, are less likely to experience high levels of stress day-to-day. This is because their brains have developed stronger self-soothing mechanisms that got them though the difficult times.
When you’re feeling stressed, let go of the downward spiral of panic or catastrophizing thoughts and see it as an opportunity to grow, develop new skills, and increase your resilience.
Mindset Shift 3: Perceive stress as something everyone deals with and as a way to strengthen social connections
When we’re stressed, we tend to see it as a marker of how messy or off-track our life is. In truth, stress is something we all experience at difference times. It’s a pretty safe bet that your friends and family members will be able to relate to how stressed you’re feeling (even if your mind is trying to tell you that your stress is ‘silly’ or unnecessary) so next time you’re
stressed, lean into this new perception of stress as a shared experience and ask for help.
See your stress as a reminder to reach out to your support network and strengthen bonds by sharing openly and showing some vulnerability. When you receive support, you’ll get a hit of oxytocin (a.k.a. the happy or love hormone) and feel more connected socially. McGonigal’s research encourages us to embrace stress so we can cope in positive ways
instead of numbing out to stress with alcohol, drugs or technology. When we’re able to be present and accepting of our stress, we’re able to find meaning in stress, tackle the source of stress and seek support from our social networks.
Give these mindset shifts a go next time you’re stresses and see for yourself!
McGonigal, K. (2016). The upside of stress: Why stress is good for you, and how to get good at it. Penguin.
Srivastava, S., McGonigal, K. M., Richards, J. M., Butler, E. A., & Gross, J. J. (2006). Optimism in close
relationships: How seeing things in a positive light makes them so. Journal of personality and social
psychology, 91(1), 143.