Category: stress

How to make stress work for you?

April 6, 2022

Let’s start with a definition of stress.

Stress: a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.

Now, notice that it does not say anything about negative or positive stress. Have you ever even wondered about that? Some may think that all stress is negative. Not true. Positive stress happens, too. Positive stress (Eustress) or good stress is the type of stress response that we feel when we are excited.

Stressors are thoughts or challenges. They can be positive or negative. Stress and how it affects you depends on your mindset.

What Is Stress Mindset?

Again, it’s how you view stress, what it means to you.

  • Is it a threat – something that will negatively affect your emotional state, your performance (physical and mental), even your health?
  • Or is it a challenge that lifts you to a higher level of energy and performance? (i.e. the stress response is helping you cope.)

Why Stress Mindset Matters

A negative stress mindset views stress as harmful, a threat – and therefore something to be avoided, averted, maybe even suppressed. Negative consequences are:

  • You’ll avoid challenges and opportunities for growth and development (as with a fixed mindset).
  • Trying to avoid stress, and in particular trying to suppress the body’s stress response, actually amplifies it and makes the feeling of stress and anxiety worse, and probably longer lasting.
  • You can get locked into a state of chronic stress response, which is actually harmful (unlike short bursts of stress) – your stress mindset becomes self-fulfilling.

A positive stress mindset means stress is a challenge to be embraced, moving you to perform better. The stress response is your body’s mobilizing energy to help you meet the challenge. It feels like excitement, not anxiety. In other words, although there is still a physical stress response, it doesn’t feel like stress at all.

I stole, I mean, borrowed this from Stress Resilient Mind

Distress Stressors:

  • Financial crises
  • Solo caregiving
  • Death of a loved one
  • Relationship problems
  • Illness or Injury
  • Abuse
  • Feeling neglected
  • Worrying about someone else
  • Work problems
  • Deadlines

What happens to the body during stress?

The body’s autonomic nervous system controls your heart rate, breathing, vision changes and more. Its built-in stress response, the “fight-or-flight response,” helps the body face stressful situations.

When a person has long-term (chronic) stress, continued activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on the body. Physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms develop.

Physical symptoms:

  • Aches (headaches, body aches, etc.)
  • Pains (lower back pain, neck pain, etc.)
  • Chest pain or heart racing
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Exhaustion
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle tension
  • Jaw clenching
  • Stomach problems
  • Weaker immune system
  • Trouble with or lack of interest in sex

Emotional or Mental symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks

Stress is subjective and cannot be measured with tests. Only the person experiencing the stress gets to determine how severe it is! That being said, we can look at the physical and mental symptoms you are having and we can also assess whether you are handling the stress with healthy or unhealthy behaviors.

Negative Stress:

Examples of unhealthy behaviors:

  • Alcohol misuse – drinking too much and/or too often
  • Medication misuse – taking a medication for other than its intended purposes
  • Food misuse – overeating, excessive eating of sweets, eating disorders
  • Smoking
  • Gambling
  • Shopping

Examples of healthy behaviors:

  • Deep breathe for 3-5 minutes four to six times a day
  • Eat for nutrition
  • Hydrate with water and other non-caffeinated beverages
  • Walk or run regularly – four to five times a week for 20 minutes at a time
  • Practice relaxation techniques
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Sleep enough
  • Make time for your hobby
  • Talk therapy
  • Re-framing the situation
  • Journaling for 10 minutes each day
  • Setting realistic goals

Find your own personal mantra:

  • I did not cause this and I cannot fix this.
  • I cannot control the outcome; all I can do is to do my best.
  • I cannot change this situation and no amount of worrying will change the situation.
  • It is okay that the situation is not okay, I am moving forward and doing my best.
  • I can control how I react now, and that is all I can or have to control.
  • It is okay that I did not get it all done today, I have accomplished a lot today.
  • Things are not too good today, but I have adapted.
  • Let it go = let it be just as it is, right now

Create your own saying or mantra. One that is empowering and meaningful to you.

Sometimes stress is telling you to pay attention, something needs to change around here. Something is out of whack. Look at it. Is there a fix? Yes. Great, do it and move forward. Is there a fix? No. Great, let it be and move forward.

I know, I know. It is not normal to let things be and move forward. We all have to understand that our problems arise when we refuse to believe that what is happening cannot be fixed and we don’t like it! It is the internal struggle that is wearing us out. How much better off would we be, if we would accept things the way that they are, right now? It does not mean that we don’t try to make things better. It does not mean that we don’t move forward. We adapt. We reassess.

Re-frame the situation. How in the hell do you re-frame the situation? Start by noticing “stinking thinking.” Get ready to write some things. No, you cannot just think about them. That is part of the problem, you are in your head too much. Get the paper and pen or pencil.

  1. Write down your thoughts. (What is causing the anxiety?)
  2. Fact-check your thoughts. (Are they true? What is the proof?)

Truth is on a spectrum, it takes in to account your experiences, life stories and belief system. Facts are facts. They are true everywhere and for everyone.

 3.When you are really feeling stuck, ask, “Is this helpful?

4. What would you say to a close friend that is having the same thoughts are you are?

5. What is realistic, not positive? Finding a positive thought about a negative situation is not realistic. You don’t have to put a positive spin on it.

6. Screw “the bright side,” find “the meaning.” Get out of the “all-or-none” type of thinking. It doesn’t have to be an “either/or” situation, it can be a “both/and,” type of situation.

7. What is the next right action to take?

8. Try this for a week or two. Give it time or work or fail. Then reassess, make a plan and try again.

Reframing is not the best way to deal with every situation, but it sure can be a helpful tool. Use reframing to take an alternate view of the situation.

What are your skills and traits? Identify your strengths. Identify the areas that you are not so good at to find out either what you need to learn or you will learn that you need to let someone else handle the job.

If you are using all of your energy focusing on the negative, then you will have little to no energy left to find any good in the situation or to look for possible solutions. Use your energy wisely, you only have so much focused energy to use every day (about 3 hours).

Positive Stress:

Some stress can be good for you. How do you know if it is good stress?

Positive Stress Characteristics:

  • Focuses Energy
  • Motivates you
  • Within our coping abilities
  • Feels exciting
  • Improves performance
  • Short-term (you will still have physiological changes to your body)
  • Challenges for learning, growth and achievement
  • Sense of purpose

Positive Stressors:

  • New relationship
  • Wedding
  • Upcoming holidays
  • Retirement
  • Vacation
  • Pregnancy
  • Taking on a new project at work
  • Physical conditioning
  • Learning something new
  • Buying a home
  • Graduating
  • New job
  • Self-care

Positive stress is key for developing resilience. That is what we are all after. The ability to handle whatever happens both good and bad. To get back to the point that we know we are going to be okay.

Pat