Why Changing How You Think About Stress Could Save Your Life
Let's Talk About Stress.
I live in Manhattan — the city that never sleeps.
It’s filled with people who are…
Always on the go.
In permanent hustle mode.
Busy from dawn until dusk.
Seemingly crazy, unattainable, and nerve-wracking for some (okay, most). But for New Yorkers, this is the norm.
Just life, as they say.
Some wouldn’t have it any other way. Others are desperately looking for a way out. Either way, I hear the same from both camps:
Because the fast paced, always-on culture we now live in (New York City or not) has increased the number of demands on our time and attention. With little to no understanding for limits, boundaries, or balance. So we oftentimes find ourselves racing around. Feeling like there’s no time to, well, take our time. Or move slowly. Or breathe.
Stress has thus become an infamous buzzword in our society today. 9.8 times out of 10, people talk about stress in a negative way. Harping on why it’s detrimental to our health — physically, emotionally and mentally. Why we’re in the middle of a “stress epidemic” that needs to end. Stat. And let it be known, this negativity is well-founded. There’s plenty of research that supports the ill-effects of stress on our health.
The Two Kinds of Stress
Now — as a Mindset and Mindfulness coach, I’m not going to tell you that I’m a fan of this constant state of stress. And I’m definitely not going to defend it, either. It probably comes as no surprise when I tell you that I’m one of those New Yorkers (born and raised, to boot!) who doesn’t love the consistent, relentless pace of this town.
But did you know that not all stress is bad stress? That there’s such a thing as good stress, too?
That’s right. And chances are, you’re already doing it. You just don’t think of it as stress.
Taking working out, for example. When you push yourself physically, your heart pounds. You breathe heavily. Maybe you start to sweat. In other words, your body goes into overdrive to support you. Because you’re putting stress on your body.
Exercise is considered good stress because you’re pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. And as a result,
You get stronger.
Facing good stress is hard in the moment, sure. But the outcome is worthwhile. It’s a journey worth taking.
I bet you’d jump at the opportunity to seek out more growth opportunities if given the chance. To take steps toward the person you want to be. The person you’re meant to become.
Well, who’s to say that we can’t apply this same thought process to the other types of stress we deal with? That our physical response to stressful situations is in fact our body’s way of helping us with the situation at hand? That our body wants to set us up for success?
This would certainly provide us with those growth opportunities we’re looking for. Opportunities that bring us one step closer to the more evolved, stronger, capable version of ourselves we aspire to be.
And guess what — research proves this simple mindset shift makes all the difference.
What the Research Says
According to Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal, “When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress.” Which is important — because it negates the adverse physical effects of stress on the body. Thus breaking the link between stress and life threatening diseases. Stress doesn’t have to put your life at risk.
McGonigal gave an amazing Ted Talk on this topic, How to Make Stress Your Friend. She cites two studies in her talk that I want to share with you here:
Abiola Keller et al. (2012) studied the relationship between stress, life expectancy and death. They found that “people who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful were no more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people who had relatively little stress.” This means that people didn’t die prematurely from stress. They died from “the belief that stress is bad for you.”
And according to Jeremy P. Jamieson et al.’s (2012) findings, research participants who viewed their body’s response to stress as a good thing had a similar cardiovascular profile to someone overwhelmed with joy or courage. There were no signs of the heart’s typical stress response — which is huge. McGonigal notes, “This one biological change could be the difference between a stress-induced heart attack at age 50 and living well into your 90’s.”
Shift Your View on Stress
How you can shift your view on stress from harmful to helpful. So consider this: Your physical response to stress is your body’s way of telling you that you’re being challenged. Pushed. Tested. It’s also your body’s way of boosting your chances for success. Giving you a leg up. Making sure you don’t enter uncharted waters at a deficit.
When you think about stress in this way, it becomes kind of exciting, doesn’t it? It’s proof that there’s something new on the horizon. Something worth fighting for. Proof that at some point in the future, you’ll look back this moment and think “Wow, look how far I’ve come.”
Another thing. Stress is an opportunity to strengthen the gratitude we feel toward our body. It bolsters our connection to self and within. Because stress reminds us that we are supported, no matter what. Our body has our back. It’s fighting for us. Always.
Why This Matters
I’d be lying if I said it’s possible to completely rid our lives of stress. Especially if you want to live a life of meaning. One that requires you to strive, grow, push past boundaries and evolve.
But that doesn’t mean stress needs to have an iron-clenched grip on your life and well being.
That’s what I want you to take away from this article. That it’s not the events in your life that matter. It's how you SEE and THINK about them that make all the difference.
You hold all the power. It’s time to shift your mindset and reclaim it.
Interested in talking about how stress impacts your life and holds you back from what you want to achieve? And how you can change your mindset to use stress to your advantage? Shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Abiola Keller et al., “Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality”, Health Psychology, September 2012
Jeremy P. Jamieson et al., “Mind over matter: Reappraising arousal improves cardiovascular and cognitive responses to stress”, Journal of Experimental Psychology, August 2012