Stress is one of those things that no one wants, but every one has. Any type of change is stressful, and life is full of change. We’re all aware of how negative events cause stress, such as illness, demands at work, traffic jams, and family conflicts. Surprisingly, even happy events, like a job promotion, buying a new home, having a baby, or going on a vacation, can create stress as well.
What we call “stress” is actually a very primitive physiological response that prepares our bodies to fight or flee in dangerous situations. Adrenalin is released into our system, heart rate and breathing increase, digestion shuts down, blood rushes to the brain and away from extremities. This readies our bodies for physical exertion, increases alertness, and decreases blood loss from an injury. While we may be well prepared to hunt down a bear, or run away from a forest fire, this response does little to help us cope with deadlines, demanding customers, computer malfunctions or misbehaving children.
We all know the basics of stress management: exercise regularly, get enough sleep, eat healthy food, avoid alcohol and cigarettes. But one of the best ways to reduce stress is simply to change the way we look at things.
Studies of executives under high stress suggest the difference a healthy perspective can make. One group of executives looked at change in a helpless and pessimistic way. They feared failure and avoided any risk taking. They tended to deny problems and were unlikely to confide in anyone. Their relationships deteriorated under stress. Health problems and depression were common in this group.
In contrast, the group who coped well saw change as a challenge and an opportunity. They experimented, tried creative solutions, and learned from past mistakes. They were committed to family and friends, and had good personal support systems. These executives saw themselves as effective and in control of their lives. They stayed healthy and effective despite stress.
Try this in your own life. Choose something you currently find stressful and try to look at it in a different way. For example, a difficult project might become an opportunity for creativity, or a challenge to demonstrate thoroughness and attention to detail to a supervisor or teacher. The hassle of getting children off to school on time might become the chance to talk through the feelings of both parents and children, and to share responsibility for solving the problem. We can’t escape stress in our lives. But modifying the way we think is a powerful tool for coping with stressors.