Amidst the recent chaotic events, it is normal and expected for your stress and anxiety levels to be heightened at future uncertainty. Even without the added stress of natural disasters and pandemic illnesses, it is common to feel overwhelmed by everyday stressors big and small. But how do we recognize and handle stress?
The goal of stress management is not merely stress reduction. After all, life would be boring and uneventful if we didn’t encounter some level of stress each day. Commonly, when discussing the subject of stress, it is viewed in a negative light. Distress or negative stress occurs when you perceive that the challenge ahead is dangerous, difficult, painful, or unfair. During distress you may encounter some biological changes: your heart beats faster, your palms get sweaty, you start breathing faster. These physiological changes prepare your body for the challenge ahead. Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal discussed how these symptoms, when perceived under the mindset that stress is harmful to one’s health, caused adverse health effects like hypertension and cardiovascular disease. However, if the subject perceived these symptoms under the premise that their body was gearing up for a challenge, preparing for greatness, they did not suffer from the same stress-related health issues. By changing our mindset towards stress, we can change our stress physiologically affects our health.
Many of our daily stressors are positive events. For instance, buying a new home, welcoming a baby into the family, or getting a job promotion. All of these events bring more stress to one’s life. Yet, they can also bring some of the greatest memories and happiest times. Even smaller events, like the physical exertion of a good workout, the thrill of accomplishing a hard task, or the enjoyment received when watching the sunset on vacation. These are all examples of positive stress or eustress. As we include more opportunities for eustress can promote resiliency in our behaviors.
Though the future may be unknown, you can increase your ability to handle stress by integrating it into your everyday lifestyle. For example: solving challenging puzzles like sudoku or crossword puzzles, regular exercise, relaxation techniques, staying in touch with enjoyable social contacts, engaging in optimistic thinking, humor, and play. This week, find a way to stretch your mind! Challenge yourself to include one of these behaviors each day to build resiliency and become better equipped to handle distress.