Society demonizes stress. But what causes stress to actually be harmful is our perception of it. Learn how to change your perception of stress so that you can use it to fuel you towards achieving your goals.
Stress has been demonized by our society as a major source of disease in the developed world. A countless number of studies and articles have been published that claim stress has a physiologically detrimental impact on our health and wellbeing
We constantly fear stress, and do everything in our power to manage it with the hope of eradicating its negative effects on our bodies.
I have always viewed myself as a “high-stress” individual. Someone who is extremely involved in her community, with a tight schedule that has just enough time to squeeze in the minimal self-care activities needed to thrive. Stress has manifested in my life as signs of early greying hair, and the constant organizational thoughts that cloud my mind determining exactly what I need to do next in order to be successful.
Stress has formed a cyclical process in my life that starts with a task, leading to an increase in stress, changes in my physiology and psychology, fear that stress has increased, the task is finally completed, and the cycle begins again. I do everything in my power to limit the stress I feel, but for some reason I cannot stop thinking about the harm it is doing to my body. I recently read a book called The Upside of Stress. This book is exactly what I had been waiting for.
It made me realize that incorporating the appropriate stress management techniques to my daily routine is not enough. If do not change my negative perception of stress, then it will continue to impose its destructive mechanism on my body.
It is written by Kelly McGonigal, a Stanford psychologist. She combines science, stories and exercises to challenge the societal perception of stress with the attempt to encourage readers to embrace its benefits.
The Physiologic Impact of Stress:
Stress has a clear physiological impact on our bodies. It can initially cause alpha-adrenergic, and sympathetic nervous system stimulation, leading to an increased heart rate, oxygen demand and blood pressure. Stress affects the ability of our bodies to adequately absorb food by causing inflammation of the Gastrointestinal Tract.
High concentrations of stress hormones have been shown to cause atrophy of the hippocampus and may even lead to declarative memory disorders. However, interestingly enough, high amounts of stress may sharpen memory for a short period of time in certain situations such as examination periods.
This paradoxical effect is a consequence of the type and degree of imposed stress. This is what we need to focus on. Changing our perception of the degree of our imposed stress and use it as a driving force to achieve our goals.
How Do We Change Our Perception of Stress?
One of the biggest problems we face when we try to avoid stress is the change of perception that occurs when facing difficult circumstances. When we define situations with stress, they become problems instead of challenges that we can overcome. For example, if you face stress at work you think that there something is wrong with your job, or if you face stress in a relationship it means that the relationship is unhealthy. Even personally, when we feel stress, we see it as evidence that we have failed and believe that there is something wrong with us.
Your body does not understand the implication of the physiologic processes of stress. It is your mind that places the negative belief that causes your body to act accordingly. We have it within us to take the bodily process of stress and manifest it into a positive feeling of excitement. Cultivating this process is a 3-step mindset, as taken from The Upside of Stress.
Acknowledge the stress
Welcome it by recognizing that it is a response you care about.
Make use of the energy it gives you instead of wasting the energy managing your stress.
It is through this mindset shift that you can leverage stress and enforce it to work on your behalf to further motivate you towards your aspirations. Stress is not scary. Practice this mindset to eradicate the fear you hold around stress and begin to trust your ability to handle it. Redefine the limitations you put on yourself and take control of your life.
Yaribeygi, H., Panahi, Y., Sahraei, H., Johnston, T. P., & Sahebkar, A. (2017). The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI journal, 1057-1072. doi:10.17179/excli2017-480
McGonigal, K. (2017). The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It. S.I.: Avery.