Life can be pretty challenging at times. Between demanding work environments, marital ups and downs, financial worries, or the seemingly endless money pit that is your vehicle; stress can creep in to all parts of your life – and can have a compounding effect.
Stress is very complex. There are multiple factors with multiple outcomes, and it impacts everyone differently – but there are ways to change your stress mindset to enhance your performance and productivity.
How do some people undergo intense stress to remain healthy and even thrive?
The physiologist sees stress with increased blood pressure, heart rate or changes in the chemicals that modulate the immune system. The social worker sees vulnerability with compromised social networks, coping and problem-solving skills. The doctor sees increased visits from patients, where it is actually estimated that up to 70% of primary care visits are stress related.
These perspectives outline the standard negative picture of stress – but Dr. Mike Evans believes we also see a positive side to stress. Athletes are able to see a stress level that is high, but not too high for optimum performance. Executives, mothers or aid workers manage stress like a bicycle tire – they regulate enough pressure to keep rolling but not too much so if they hit a bump they won’t explode.
So, what makes all of these people stress resistant?
The answer is big and includes factors like how much control people feel they have in their lives, their social network, their openness to change, attitudes like optimism, or self-care skills like exercise and humour.
Research on mental health shows that we have broken a lot of ground with common mental illnesses, but we haven’t done a lot of research to common problems like stress. And when stress is steady, it’s usually in the context of other diseases.
Change your thinking style
Dr. William James once said, “the greatest weapon against stress is the ability to choose one thought over another.”
This is the single most effective treatment you can do for managing stress – change the way you think. There isn’t a drug or a diet – it’s just boils down to changing the way you think.
Most people think that stress is something that happens to them, like a piece of steel on a bridge that is dealing with a lot of stress and then eventually snaps. This is the physical model, but it’s not the human model. But rather we create the stress in our brains.
It’s not an external thing, it’s your thinking that brings the stress. Your brain is a volume dial that can turn the stress up, but it can also turn it down.
We often think we’re born with different attitudes and a thinking style, but stress management is a skill that can be learned. You can consciously make daily choices of mindset and behavior that will improve the structure and connectivity of your brain.
Embrace the power of mindfulness
Another way to reduce your stress through your thinking style is through the use of mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness programs have become much more mainstream in recent years where patients who have chronic diseases or heart attacks take a mindfulness course as part of their treatment – and there is evidence about its effectiveness.
Mindfulness combines many successful techniques for stress reduction, such as increased self-awareness, breathing, muscle relaxation, meditation. And in our busy world, it’s important to let go of busy distractions and staying in the moment. Mindfulness allows us to let go of worry and not get trapped in the anxious loops.
It’s more about choosing where to place your attention.
Your attitude impacts your thinking style and outlook on life – and mindfulness teaches us awareness of the power of choice.
3 key traits to dealing with stress
Dr. Suzanne Kobasa (Ouelette) and her colleagues at the University of Chicago looked how to deal with stress by following a natural experiment in the 1980’s break-up of the Ma Bell telephone company.
They followed participants and identified three keys traits to those who coped well.
While facing uncertainty, the stress resistant executives maintained quality work, engaging with family and friends, their community, their faith and their hobbies. They were all committed to the bigger picture of success, and this allowed them to weather the turbulence.
It’s interesting because these executives had little control, in fact, their skill in fighting stress was their ability to let go. They could see that the sands were shifting and if they were to rigid in their control over territory or department they might actually lose the bigger opportunity or even their job.
Other psychological research focuses on “locus of control.” Which is really the extent to which individuals believe they can control events that affect them, and their ability to make change.
The executives may have understood that a lot of what was happening was out of their control, but they could adapt and even choose to feel competent about what they can control.
Stress resistant execs were able to limit their self-importance and see the change around them like a potential stepping stone – not a stumbling block.
Simply writing out a stress story can make a big difference. The act of giving coherence and creating your own personal narrative to stressful events in a letter can be an effective way of negating the stress of those events. Classic therapeutic letter writing exercises about writing a letter to someone who stresses you out – and then not posting it.
Think basics. When things are stressful, sometimes you need to say to yourself, I will keep a regular sleep routine, I will avoid eating crap, I will walk, I will socialize.
So the next time you feel overwhelmed in a stressful situation, take the 90/10 rule into consideration. 10% of stress is what happens to us in life – and 90% of it is how we respond to it.
Check out Dr. Mike’s full whiteboard video on how you can manage your stress more effectively today!