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

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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.


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.


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

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