By Erika Fehrenbach Prell
Stress…we’ve all had it, right? It’s an unavoidable part of life. Did you ever consider that you can flip the script on stress and make it a positive force in your life, rather than a negative and destructive one? And, Dream Chaser, it all starts with your stress mindset, or where your belief about stress lies. Let’s dive in!
Being the self-proclaimed science nerd, let’s start our stress discovery with physiology. Stress was designed to save you from life-threatening danger. Perhaps you have heard of the “fight or flight response”? That’s stress in action as it was meant to be! When this life-saving instinct is triggered, your body releases two powerful chemicals, adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline causes your heart rate and blood pressure to go up while cortisol increases alertness, combined these give you the energy for fight or flight. While these are extremely helpful to survive dangerous situations, this powerful stress response is more often triggered unnecessarily in our day to day life.
Experiencing stress isn’t inherently bad, in the short term. The effects of adrenaline and cortisol can increase focus and motivation, resulting in improved performance. On the other hand, study after study consistently demonstrates that chronic stress, or continued exposure to adrenaline and cortisol, has very negative effects on the body and has been linked to health consequences in every body system with contributions towards developing heart disease, depression, anxiety and diabetes.
Phew. Okay…now for the fun and inspiring part!
Have you ever stopped to think about your stress mindset? Your stress mindset is what you think and believe about the stressful event that is happening. (And, quick recap, your thoughts and beliefs are two things in your control…this is an important point to keep in mind.) Psychology has been looking into this idea and has found there to be 2 mindsets on stress: enhancing and debilitating.
A person with an enhancing stress mindset views stress as challenges they are prepared to deal with effectively while a debilitating stress mindset sees stress as overwhelming and they are unprepared to handle it. There was an interesting psychology study that looked into this closer. It found that people with the enhanced stress mindset performed better in cognitive tasks, had more positive emotions during the stressful task and had higher levels of the hormone DHEAS, which is known for promoting mental resilience and positive mood. Conversely, people with the debilitating stress mindset had decreased ability to adapt to the stressful task, paid greater attention to negative events and results, and had higher levels of cortisol in their systems. The difference maker was having a growth mindset, that the stressful situation is a challenge you can handle, instead of focusing on the stress as an insurmountable burden.
Stress is just a part of life, and the presence of stress is out of your control. But, here’s the thing, Dream Chaser…your thoughts and beliefs about stress ARE under your influence of control and this is the difference maker on if the presence of stress is a negative or positive influence in your life. These studies are showing that simply changing your thoughts about stress can decrease the stress response in your body. That is so unbelievably powerful!
Where do you start? The first step is being aware of your stress mindset. Here are some statements researchers have developed to help you evaluate your stress mindset. Read each statement and rate them from a 1 (strongly disagree) to a 5 (strongly agree):
This might not be a surprise…higher scores on the first four statements indicate a more negative stress mindset while higher scores on the last four statements lean towards a positive stress mindset. Having an awareness of your natural tendency is the first step in retraining your brain to reframe stress in a new, more positive way. Here’s the place to start with your reframing, Dream Chaser…
You have made it through every challenge life has thrown at you so far.
These past challenges have equipped you to be able to deal with what’s coming next. The next time you feel stress coming on, stop and take a deep breath. (Okay, take another one, if you need to.) This challenge in front of you is here for a reason. It will make you better, stronger, more resilient. You are stronger than you think. You’ve got this!
Jackie White has been writing about life and its ups and downs for many years. With a degree in Industrial Psychology and a life-long student of personal development she is intrigued by how each individual chooses to live their life. Jackie feels strongly that truly living your best life is imperative to attaining peace and fulfillment. SoulShine was borne of her desire to inspire and teach others to live their best life. This is her mission and her dream.