What if how you framed your stress could have an effect on how stressed you are? According to Namibian Industrial Psychologist, Coen Welsh, “Research suggests that our attitude toward stress influences the impact stress has on us.” Coen explains in the following that he prepared for 99FM’s MYD Smart.
Re-Thinking How You Think About Stress by Coen Welsh
We are already halfway through the year and it seems like everyone is frazzled. If you ask around, most people will tell you they are experiencing significant amounts of stress. Pressure at work and at home, financial pressure and deadlines all add to the overwhelming feeling of stress. I was asked recently to do a motivational talk to help people to deal with their stress and it reminded me of a TED talk I saw by Kelly McGonigal (See her talk below). If you have the time, watch it, you won’t be disappointed. In this talk she describes her life’s work as a health psychologist. Her focus was mainly on stress and that lead her to write the book, ‘The Upside of Stress’. Just that title may make you ask, ‘what?’, ‘there’s and upside to stress?’ The reality is this, there are two kinds of stress.
McGonigal’s research suggests that our attitude toward stress influences the impact stress has on us. They found that if you believe that stress is bad for you it may have negative impact, however if you believe that stress is good for you it does not have the same impact.
Researchers have identified, eustress as the kind of stress the gets you up. This is the kind of stress that gets you ready for action. There is also distress. This is the kind of stress that paralyses you into inaction. Some say that all stress starts off as eustress, but when it becomes too much, it becomes distress. Whichever way you look at it, too much stress causes all sorts of uncomfortable health conditions. But, and this is a big but, McGonigal’s research suggests that our attitude toward stress influences the impact stress has on us.
They found that if you believe that stress is bad for you it may have negative impact, however if you believe that stress is good for you it does not have the same impact. In fact your risk of getting stress related illnesses, even when you experience high stress, is as low as someone who is experiencing relatively low amounts of stress. So they conducted some interventions and trained people to reinterpret their bodily reaction to stress. The shortness of breath and the increased heart rate that you associate with a stressfull situation, were explained in terms of a preparatory act that your body goes through to allow you to get ready for action. Therefore when your heart starts racing it allows your blood to flow faster to the muscles where it’s needed. This is a totally different interpretation to how we normally see it. By reinterpreting the “stress symptoms” McGonigal and her team helped people to have a much healthier clinical picture while they are under great stress than others who have not been assisted in this way.
When people are under great stress there seemed to be an increased amount of Oxytocin in their blood. This seemed odd, as Oxytocin is famous for being called the cuddle hormone. This is because Oxytocin is released when we have physical contact with others.
During their research they also found another interesting aspect. When people are under great stress there seemed to be an increased amount of Oxytocin in their blood. This seemed odd, as Oxytocin is famous for being called the cuddle hormone. This is because Oxytocin is released when we have physical contact with others. The Oxytocin hormone and the positive effects of Oxytocin has, received a great deal of media and academic attention because of the health benefits that results because of it. But, we are talking about stress, and the researchers found increased levels of Oxytocin while researching stress. So they had to question what was happening here. What they found is that during times of stress our body releases Oxytocin to assist us in searching for help. Oxytocin is one of the primary factors that allow us to show empathy to others and in the case of stress receive empathy from others.
You may ask what the point of all this is? Simply this, when we are under stress, we tend to close ourselves off from others. We put on a brave face and pretend everything is fine. In the meantime our bodies are preparing us to face our challenges, with others.
My suggestion is this, rethink the way you think about stress and secondly, reach out to others when you are undergoing stress. Even if they cannot help you, you will feel better knowing that there is someone who cares and someone who showed empathy to you. Maybe you can pay it forward and show someone else empathy when they are facing stress.
Watch Kelly McGonigal – How to make stress your friend, here :
About Coen Welsh
Coen is a qualified Industrial Psychologist and a founding trustee of Capacity Trust where he currently consults in the people and human resources space for a variety of organisations in Namibia ranging from private sector clients to government and SOE’s.