Feeling stressed? Discover how approaching stress and times of crisis with these mindsets can change the course of your physical and mental well-being.
We’ve all been at the hands of disabling stress that has affected our daily routines. It can come from work, relationships, finances, or perhaps situations beyond our control. With the uncertain events continuing to unfold with COVID-19 and many feeling a lack of control, we’ve seen first-hand stress levels soaring in our communities.
In an age of technology consisting of uninterrupted broadcasts, social media updates, relentless advertising and app notifications, the inability to step away and unplug from the negativity can have swift negative results on our mental and physical well-being.
Now more than ever, navigating each day with intention and staying mindful of our stress levels is essential to optimum health and wellness.
So the question is, how do we do that?
What is stress?
Although there is no single agreed-upon definition of what stress is, there is general agreement in the medical community that stress is the body’s reaction to anything we perceive as harmful or threatening to our physical or mental wellbeing. According to The American Institute of Stress, stress can also be defined as “a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.”
It might come as a surprise to some, but the term “stress” which we use to describe the duress and accompanying symptoms our bodies undergo, was coined only about 50 years ago by a physician by the name of Hans Selye. Selye developed the General Adaptation Syndrome theory which outlines the physiological symptoms our bodies experience when we are, in a sense, in crisis mode.
The General Adaptation Syndrome outlines three stages as part of how we process stress:
Alarm Reaction Stage – The alarm reaction stage refers to the physiological symptoms our bodies experience – such as neurological, cardiovascular, and even hormonal. We’re willing to bet you’ve encountered this stage many times before and may recognize it as the precursor to the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. This is the body’s natural response for protecting itself from perceived dangerous situations and can be characterized by increased heart rate and a boost of adrenaline.
Resistance Stage – The second stage happens when the body attempts to adapt to the stressful situation, entering what we could call a recovery phase. This will occur when the stressful situation continues to happen, but also when it passes. If you perceive a continued threat, your body will keep generating the stress hormone cortisol and maintain increased levels of blood pressure, heart rate, and tightened muscles. If the situation persists for a longer period, a plethora of symptoms will occur – ranging from decreased cognitive functioning, altered moods, and even weight gain.
On the other hand, if the stressful situation passes your body will equalize hormone levels and all other physiological functions to the pre-stress norm.
Exhaustion Stage – The third stage occurs if exposure to the stressful situation continues and your body’s attempt to maintain the resistance stage becomes overwhelmed. This stage is characterized by drained physical, mental, and emotional resources which will invariably lead to burnout, a weakened immune system, lower stress tolerance, insomnia issues, and depression.
What are the symptoms of stress?
Although small doses of stress can be beneficial for you, helping you to build responses to events and building confidence in your ability to handle them, chronic stress can deplete your body’s resources and have prolonged negative effects on your emotional, physical, behavioral, and cognitive state.
Decreased ability to practice self-care, relaxation, and meditation
Low self-esteem, depression, social withdrawal, feeling loss of control
Frustration, anger, moodiness
Body aches, tense muscles
Insomnia or fatigue
Frequent infections, even serious cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure or stroke, skin and hair problems, or gastrointestinal issues
Nervousness, rapid heartbeat, shaking
Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs or increased tobacco use
Appetite changes, eating disorders, and obesity
Inability to focus or organize, restless thoughts
Any of these symptoms can happen separately or in conjunction with others. Since it’s impossible to eliminate the stressors that threaten us daily, it’s important to be aware of these symptoms and find mechanisms for coping. Practicing self-care may not eliminate stressors but it can help the body to relax and repair. This is why we encourage being mindful of your mindset and “thinking more about your thinking.”
How to Reduce Stress With Mindset
Mindfulness allows us to see stressful occurrences from a new and more balanced angle. Research findings show that mindset can be a large factor in how we view and manage stress. Knowing it can be a powerful tool, here are several options and instructions on how to alter mindsets strategically:
Mindset #1: Positive Mindset
Are you optimistic or pessimistic? Do you see the glass half-empty or half-full? Or perhaps you fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. The fact is, your outlook on life can dictate how you manage stress.
The Mayo Clinic points out, you don’t have to hide from the world’s problems to be positive. It just means taking a mindful approach and staying more productive and optimistic about unpleasant situations.
If you regularly think negative thoughts then you are bound to find the negatives in the events happening around you. We’ve worked with many clients and can easily spot those with negative attitudes because they’ll often complain, blame, criticize, blow things out of proportion, exhibit anger, or have a victim mentality.
Those with a positive mindset, on the other hand, tend to take things in stride. They practice flexing this “positivity” muscle and growing it by identifying things that are working in their lives (or singular events), evaluating their thought processes and learning how to filter through a positive lens, surrounding themselves with positive people, and following a healthy lifestyle.
Our quick tips: Take a moment each day to list off one positive event that happened that particular day and one from the previous week. And when a negative situation occurs, allow your body to respond and then take a minute to mindfully evaluate the accompanying stress reactions. Are they warranted? What is something you can control right now? And lastly, how can you grow from it and create a positive from a negative?
Mindset #2: Growth Mindset
As we mentioned earlier, stress can happen when we feel ill-equipped to deal with certain situations. If we don’t take away anything from our stressors and how to combat them, then what did we learn?
A growth mindset goes hand in hand with practicing a positive mindset. Seeing the world through a lens of growth can steer our minds away from negativity and view each event as an opportunity to gain new skills, learn new lessons, and become more equipped to deal with life.
The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of a stressful situation that should be viewed through a growth mindset. Many in the community have been fearful for their health and safety, and it’s understandable why. But allowing negative thoughts and our stress to spiral out of control will ultimately lead to poorer health and a weaker immune system.
One strategy for focusing through a growth lens during this time is to make a list of lessons learned and strategies for the future. There are areas where we all probably wish we could have been better prepared for, but what could we do individually in the future to be better equipped? What can you do now to utilize your time, multiply your resources, or create value for others? These are the questions people with growth mindsets ask themselves during times of hardship.
Our quick tip: Each week make it a habit to sit in a quiet location and reflect on stressful occurrences and how your reactions prompted your actions. Did you grow from them? What would you do differently? Then either write your thoughts or share them with someone else. Keeping yourself accountable will help you continue with your reflections.
Mindset #3: Gratitude Mindset
We’ve already covered how stressful thinking can be automatic and quickly spiral out of control. Practicing gratitude is a natural detox that when implemented, will reorient your mind back to a positive space.
Science has proven that there are several proven benefits to being grateful, including gaining new relationships, improved physical and psychological health, improved sleep, and better mental health.
If you think back to a time when either you or someone else showed you gratitude, you’ll most likely have positive feelings associated. That’s because showing gratitude not only acknowledges other people’s contributions, it also helps us reduce toxic emotions such as frustration, regret, or resentment.
If you work on cultivating a gratitude mindset you will quickly reposition your thoughts from “this is happening to me” to “this is happening for me.”
Our quick tip: At the beginning or end of each day name one thing, person, or event you are grateful for.
The Bottom Line
The art of stressing mindfully takes practice, consistency, and accountability. Part of being Elite is always proactively learning how to get to the next level of our mental and physical well-being. If we fall into old patterns and default to old habits, we’re ignoring the powerful resources we have within ourselves.
Although worldly events may be out of our control, how we reflect on and grow from them is entirely up to us.