Stress is a part of being human. We all deal with stress at some point in our lives, and often ‘stress’ has negative connotations, however, it does not always have to be that way. Here we explore recent research surrounding how rethinking the way we view stress could be helpful and effectively prime the body and mind for action and success.
- Viewing stress as harmful can impact on physical and mental health
- We can change the way we view stress by developing a ‘stress hardy’ mindset
- A change of mindset can turn stress into something more positive
Changing your mindset does not mean negating stress. Stress should not be denied, instead recognised and acknowledged – only then can an upside be found. Scientists have explored the connection between our mind and body, and have found that with a change of mindset, stress can be shifted from negative energy to positive energy.
Why Understand Stress
In 2018 the Mental Health Foundation reported that almost three-quarters (74%) of UK adults had felt very stressed at some point over the last year. In these reports, they found that the stress levels of these individuals had reached the point where they believed they were unable to cope, most prominently in work and financial situations.
Undoubtedly, if you are experiencing stress you are not alone. However, developing a ‘stress hardy mindset (meaning strength and tolerance towards stressful situations) can change the way you respond to challenging situations, and move through life, compared to those who view stress negatively. When those who have developed this mindset are faced with a stressful situation, the ‘challenge response’, which accounts for excitement and delight, will be triggered. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “instead of the cardiovascular system constricting blood vessels and ramping up inflammation in anticipation of wounds, it allows for maximum blood flow, much like exercise.”
Stress: Mind-Body Connection
It has been long understood that our mind and body are connected particularly closely. Recent research has now uncovered a possible revaluation of stress that could add decades to our lives.
Research from Harvard of over 30,000 participants, explored the similar relationship of people’s experience of stress using data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). They found the following:
- The risk associated with premature death increased if people believed that stress negatively impacted their mental and physical health.
- Those who reported higher levels of stress, to begin with, and believed stress negatively impacted their health, were 43% more exposed to the risk of premature death.
- On the other end of the spectrum, those who reported higher levels of stress, to begin with but simply did not believe stress was harmful were at the lowest risk of premature death out of the entire group – even lower than those who did not report a lot of stress at the start of the study.
These findings suggest that a change of mindset around stress would be most beneficial to those who are highly stressed and worry that stress is harmful. Additionally, rethinking stress as being enhancing, rather than harmful, is seen to promote more adaptive physiological responses and greater openness to feedback.
Think Positive and be Mindful
We understand this is a lot of information to take in and being told to rethink your mindset can be difficult and take time. So how do you go about thinking about stress in a positive frame of mind? As we mentioned on Valentine’s Day, positive reappraisal and being mindful have been found to significantly change how we view stress, in turn reducing its damaging effects.
If you’re super stressed, we advise you to do 2-3 rounds of slow-count breathing and then your practice positive affirmations.
Finally, it is important to recognise that rethinking stress may not be achievable. Hence, if you are consistently feeling down, anxious or extremely stressed, please make sure to talk with your local GP about the best options for you.
Crum, A. J., Salovey, P., & Achor, S. “Rethinking stress: The role of mindsets in determining the stress response.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104.4 (2013): 716-733. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23437923/.
Harvard Health Publishing. “Harnessing the upsides of stress.” (2020). https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/harnessing-the-upsides-of-stress.
Harvard Health Publishing. “How stress can harm your heart.” (2020). https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/how-stress-can-harm-your-heart.
Lyons-Padilla, Sarah. “To Work Better, Rethink Stress.” Stanford University. https://sparq.stanford.edu/solutions/work-better-rethink-stress.
Mental Help. “Resilience: Hardiness.” Emotional-resilience. https://www.mentalhelp.net/emotional-resilience/hardiness/.
NHS. “10 Stress Busters.” Mental Health and Wellbeing.
Stewart, Conor. “Most common types of stress experienced in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2020*.” Statista. (2020). https://www.statista.com/statistics/1134359/common-types-of-stress-in-the-uk/.
Young, Karen. “Rethinking Stress: How Changing Your Thinking Could Save Your Life.” https://www.heysigmund.com/rethinking-stress-why-changing-our-thinking-could-save-our-lives/.