Leading a healthy lifestyle requires adjusting our attitudes about stress. Stress is unavoidable. But we have a choice about how to deal with it. Work, money and family all create daily stress. More global issues like politics and terrorism can also add to our stress levels.
But, research studies show that our perception of stress is really what matters in the long run. The key to dealing with stress and also leading a healthy lifestyle is to adjust your attitude. You can even make stress a positive part of a healthy lifestyle.
How to Embrace Stress While Leading a Healthy Lifestyle
Here are some ways to deal with stress, reduce its harm and even use it to make yourself stronger and healthier.
Even though stress is associated with many serious health problems, some people with high-stress thrive. How is that possible?
In 2012, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison published a study looking at how 28,000 people perceived stress in their lives. People in the study answered these two questions:
1. During the past 12 months, would you say that you experienced:
o A lot of stress
o A moderate amount of stress
o Relatively little stress
o Almost no stress at all
2. How much effect has stress had on your health?
o A lot
o Hardly any
The researchers looked at death rates in the study group over nine years. The results were quite surprising. The study found that the amount of stress in the participant’s life was not linked with premature death. However, those people who said they had a lot of stress in their lives and believed it was taking a toll on their health, had a 43% increased risk of premature death.
Leading a Healthy Lifestyle Involves Changing Your Stress Perceptions
Another study shows how interconnected our minds are with our bodies. Whether we view stress as something that is harming our bodies or making us stronger so we can overcome adversity makes all the difference.
Here’s a quick way to try out these two very different views of stress. Read the statement, and then think about your reaction to the biological changes that occur during times of stress.
1. When I’m stressed, my body releases adrenaline and cortisol. My heart is beating faster. This means that:
o Common View: Stress is increasing my risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attack.
o Alternative View: My heart is working harder and my body is mobilizing its energy to get ready for this challenge.
2. When I’m stressed, my stress response is causing my breathing rate to increase. This means that:
o Common View: My fast breathing is a sign of anxiety. I worry about how stress is affecting my mental and physical health.
o Alternative View: I should take a deep breath. My faster breathing means more oxygen is getting to my brain so I can think more clearly.
3. When I’m stressed, blood vessels dilate, causing my blood to flow faster, increasing my blood pressure. This means that:
o Common View: I can feel my blood pressure rising. This can’t be good for my health.
o Alternative View: This extra blood flow is fueling my muscles. I’m feeling stronger and ready for the challenge ahead.
If you can adopt the “alternative view” over the “common view,” you will be able to continue leading a healthy lifestyle despite dealing with a stressful lifestyle.
Consider the results of this study done by Harvard researchers. They paid 50 study subjects $25 each to take part in a lab experiment designed to induce stress. The test involved giving a talk in front of an unfriendly audience, followed by a tricky word test. This is something that causes of lot of stress for almost everyone.
Before the stress test, one group was allowed to play video games. The second group was told to just ignore stressful feelings if they experienced them during the test. The third group was given a primer about the physical stress response and told that a higher heart rate, faster breathing and butterflies were all tools for making them stronger during a stressful event. They were told about how the body’s stress response evolved to help them succeed, and that the increased arousal symptoms of stress help performance during times of high stress.
The group that learned to rethink the role of stress in their lives did far better on the test. They gave better speeches and were rated as more confident. They smiled more and had more-positive body language. And physiological indicators showed that their bodies were also managing the stress response better than those of test subjects who were taught to ignore stress or given no advice at all.
The Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal has been a champion of rethinking stress as a way to cope with it better. Her TED talk on the subject, “How To Make Stress Your Friend,” has been viewed 14 million times.
“What I learned from these studies, surveys and conversations truly changed the way I think about stress,” Dr. McGonigal wrote in her book “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” “The best way to manage stress isn’t to reduce or avoid it, but rather to rethink and even embrace it.”
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