Harnessing stress

Stress has gained a dirty name during the past decades. It’s something we talk about needing to getting rid of, as if it were wholly bad. While chronic stress can be damaging to our health, recent research demonstrates that stress isn’t always a threat to our well-being.

In fact, the very things that bring greatest meaning and joy to our lives are often the same activities that cause us stress. Being a parent. Work. Caring for a loved one.

People who handle stress well seem to have a particular “stress mindset.” They view stress as a challenge rather than something to be always feared. For instance, if they find themselves tense or revved up, they interpret their reaction as a sign that something important is at risk. Rather than flee from it or fight it, they get curious and look for opportunities to work with it.

To harness your stress constructively, try these three steps

  • Acknowledge the stress as a sign that something precious to you is threatened. Know your personal signs of stress (tight shoulders, headaches, overeating). Remind yourself that you are stressed because something important to you is endangered. Complete this sentence: “I’m stressed because I care deeply about ….” This will help you focus on the next step.
  • Create a strategy for working with the stress. The hormonal responses to stress, such as adrenaline and endorphins, provide extra energy and focus. Harness those responses to help you seek information, resources, or support from others to address the problem you care about. As you make changes, look for solutions that directly support the core values that are important to you.
  • Evaluate the outcomes and revise. Do your actions seem to be improving the situation? Is watching the news several times a day helping you to move forward with your plans, or would once-a-day be just as productive and a lot less stressful?  When this is all over, reflect on what you’ve learned. Actively reviewing how you’ve handled a situation builds confidence and skills for navigating future episodes of stress in a healthier way.