How to turn stress into a positive
HOW TO GET INTO POSITIVE MODE It’s the malaise of modern times, but recent studies have shown it’s possible to turn stress into a life and health enhancing factor, says Rachael Woolston
I‘I’m so stressed’ is a refrain that many of us have repeated regularly. A recent study of 93,000 Kiwi workers reported 32% of employees have experienced an increase in stress in the past two years. And the NEXT Report showed a massive 72% of 1000 respondents believed they’re at the greatest risk of burnout than ever before. With stress linked to the risk of developing everything from a cold to heart disease, it’s fair to draw the conclusion that stress is bad. But research of 29,000 people over eight years by the University of WisconsinMadison in America has revealed that your view of stress impacts your health more than the stress itself. Think stress is bad and your prediction may come true. But choose to think of it as energising and challenging, and stress can be good.
SWEAT IT OUT
Exercise can work miracles on stress, both in the short and the long term.
“If you allow stress to take hold, you think you don’t have time to exercise and it prevents you from being able to focus and stay calm,” says fitness instructor Rhian Stephenson, who herself used to struggle with stress. “Exercise helps to channel stress, giving you the space to approach things mentally and make good decisions.”
During exercise, your body produces a temporary increase in cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) and prolonged elevated levels of this hormone can lead to fat accumulation. But the cortisol level returns to normal quickly after your workout and regular exercise can lead to a decrease in the usual amount of cortisol in your bloodstream, which can lead to a reduction in stress.
RE-WIRE YOUR RESPONSE
We all experience stress but it’s how you respond to it which influences whether it is a positive or negative experience. According to Michelle Gielan, a former TV news presenter in the US and author of Broadcasting Happiness, discovering your default response will then help you to re-wire this response so stress can be used positively.
She conducted a study of more than 5000 people and found 27% were not good at problem-solving and expressed dismay about stress, while 26% were good at communicating and taking action but responded to every stress in their lives, even the minor ones, so they were in a constant state of alert. It is the remaining 47% who responded calmly to challenges who generally enjoyed the highest levels of happiness and success.
“Train your brain to be calmer the next time a stressful event arises, by making a list of five stressful events from your past that you were successful at solving,” Michelle recommends. “Then look at the list the next time you feel your heart racing and remind yourself of those accomplishments. If you tend to bottle up stress or deny negative events, phone a friend the next time a stressor arises. If you are