May is Mental Health Month, and it’s an opportunity for us to celebrate the power of resilience, and acknowledge our struggles with mental health issues—and then take steps toward making life better for ourselves and others. We are touching on a few topics this month that bring fresh perspectives around a few challenges to mental health in the healthcare industry. First up: Stress. Stress is a part of life, but we don’t have to let it control us. What if we can learn how to channel stress into growth?
How do you usually deal with stress?
If you’re like most people, you probably go through a lot of different coping methods. Maybe you eat a pint of ice cream or drink a glass of wine, or maybe you turn to meditation or exercise to help relieve your stress. According to Stanford Associate Professor of Psychology Alia Crum, PhD, it can be advantageous to embrace stress to create a new outcome for yourself. According to the Stanford Mindy & Body Lab’s website, Crum’s Dr. Crum’s “research focuses on how changes in subjective mindsets—the core assumptions we make about things and processes in the world—can alter objective reality through behavioral, psychological, and physiological mechanisms.”
Crum poses the question: What if instead of viewing stress as something negative and harmful—we saw it as something normal and even good for us? Stress can be hard at times, but it can also help us grow and learn from challenges. In fact, studies show that people who sort of ‘lean-in’ to stress are less likely to turn toward unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes.
What does that mean for you? Well, if you think about it, it makes sense: if you believe that stress is going to make you lose your mind or wear you down, then your brain will naturally seek out ways to cope with that idea. Crum proposes that if our brains are ‘inoculated,’ they can be rewired to better handle stress the next time the situation comes up.
The keys to building this “stress inoculation” are found by asking oneself these questions:
- What would it look like if you were able to better handle this stress? Who would you be if this stress didn’t create so much immediate negativity for you? Create that vision for yourself in your mind.
- What would life be like without stress? Acceptance that it is a normal part of life can reduce the response to fight it, and instead channel it into growth.
Stress is a normal part of our lives in some ways. There’s stress in any significant situation, and there is always going to be the possibility that poor decisions and damaging coping mechanisms will cause larger amounts of stress. If you are finding yourself overwhelmed by the amount of stress you are under, this is your first step to making a change.
Change takes time, but shifting your mindset will go a long way in helping you cope with stress.
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