Everywhere we look, there are articles on how to reduce stress. Of course, we want to reduce stress. Stress is not good for us, right? Maybe yes, maybe no. According to psychologist Kelly McGonigal author of the book The Upside of Stress relates a significant piece of research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison that shocked many people. The research on 29,000 people over eight years found that how you view stress impacts your health far more than the stress itself.
Think of it, this way. If you believe an upcoming meeting is exciting, your body will respond positively. If you think the meeting represents a scary situation, then you will have an adverse reaction (McGonigal, 2015).
Hans Selye, who discovered the dangers of the stress response, coined the terms eustress and distress. He emphasized all stress is not bad. Eustress is a positive experience; the stress you feel when you’re having fun on a roller-coaster or a ski slope. Distress is when you are frightened or upset and tell yourself that you don’t like the feeling or experience you are having.
It's also important to make a distinction between short-term stress and long-term chronic stress. Chronic stress has a negative impact, while small doses of short-term stress may be right for you. In fact, short-term stress can boost your immune system, make you more social, and improve learning and memory (Vesa, Liedberg, & Ronnberg, 2016).
Your mindfulness practice can help you become more aware of your automatic responses to situations and help you make a choice in how you view it. Exciting or Threatening? Thrilling or Life-threatening?
It may be our choice how much stress we have in our lives (Vesa, Liedberg, & Ronnberg, 2016). The next time you are feeling stressed, try this simple practice to see if it helps. You only need a few minutes, and you may see what is stressing you differently. At the very least, you may find you are much more relaxed and refreshed.
- Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Close your eyes.
- Exhale slowly, twice as long as the inhalation. This breathing process helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Think of something that makes you feel safe, fulfilled, appreciated or loved. Focus on these feelings and allow them to sink in.
- Become aware of your body. Spend the next couple of minutes being aware of your body and getting comfortable. As time passes, you may notice body parts that are tense. Take a moment to breathe into that area to relax the tension.
- Bring to mind the situation that is causing you to be stressed. Is there another way to look at this situation. What about your interpretation of the situation might not be true? For example, is it possible that you have exaggerated the consequences or importance of the stressor?
- Identify What You Can Do. As you relax, find your priority in whatever situation is stressing you and zero in on what actions that are needed. Remember you can only do what is within your control.
- Reoccurring Thoughts. Notice if you are having reoccurring thoughts. If so, acknowledge them and watch them pass. Each time they come back watch them arrive and allow space for them to move on and new thoughts to come in.
- Mantra or Affirmation. Use a word or phrase that allows you to see the positive side of what you are experiencing. “ You can handle this” or “ This will make me stronger.”
McGonigal, Kelly (2015). The Upside of Stress. Penguin Random House.
Vesa, N., Liedberg, L., & Rönnlund, M. (2016). Two-week web-based mindfulness training reduces stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms in individuals with self-reported stress: a randomized control trial. International Journal of Neurorehabilitation, 3(3).
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