How to conquer the stress mindset

Psychologist on behalf of Healthspan Dr Meg Arroll talks about how simply changing the way you view stress can help you feel less strung out.
stress mindset

What is a stress mindset? We’ll look at that and how we can change it positively in this article. ‘Stress’ is nothing new and in fact our body’s stress response is beneficial to us as it keeps us alert in times of danger.

This physiological response to stress is the same now as it was when our ancestors were hunting and gathering. Back then, the ‘fight or flight’ response to stress was very important because when faced danger (say, a predatory animal like a lion), we needed our bodies to be as strong as possible to either run or counter-attack.

In this sense, stress is a good thing – it has helped us survive as a species. Even now in everyday life, our bodies are very good and fast at dealing with difficult situations – is someone swerves in front of your car, your body will immediately switch on its stress response to allow you to instantly react.

 A positive stress mindset is where you see something stressful as an opportunity to be embraced because it may provide learning and achievement. This can boost motivation for a difficult task and give you the focus needed to complete it.

A negative stress mindset is when a stressful event or task is viewed as unpleasant, debilitating and even threatening.

stressed woman - stress mindset
A shift in your perspective can help reduce stress levels

10 signs you’re stress mindset needs a gear shift

  1. Your heart skips a beat – palpitations can be a sign of stress as your body is in the throes of the fight-or-flight response.
  2. You lose the plot – it can be hard to concentrate when chronically stressed so even trouble with keeping up with a TV story can indicate problematic stress levels.
  3. You can’t sit still – restlessness also signals that stress is becoming an issue that needs to be addressed.
  4. You avoid sex – loss of libido can be the both the cause and consequence of stress.
  5. You feel sick to the stomach – the gut and brain communicate with each other so if your mind is stressed-out, your bowels can react with pain, constipation and diarrhoea. <Mars maybe insert IBS book here?>
  6. Sleep is but a distant dream – trouble both with falling and staying asleep are associated with long-term stress.
  7. You lose your voice – speaking can become difficult when particularly stressed as breathing patterns may be disturbed.
  8. You snap – stress can lead to increased irritability which can then cause arguments with those close to us.
  9. You feel like the world’s closing in – feeling overwhelmed is a common sign of unsustainable stress.
  10. You can’t shake off that cold – stress dampens immune our system, so colds and infections can be more frequent when stressed.

Good news is, we can all change our stress mindset – here’s how

  • When something feels difficult and stressful, see what you’ll be able to learn from it. You probably can do more than you think, as T.S. Eliot famously said: “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”
  • Be compassionate to yourself – always. We are generally much harder on ourselves than others, so if you do face a challenge and trip a little, treat yourself as you would a good friend. With kindness and compassion.
  • Remind yourself every day about all the challenges you have overcome – this will strengthen the connections in your brain about accomplishments, so that when a new challenge arrives you’ll be able to see it as an exciting experience, not an overwhelming stress.
  • But this doesn’t mean you should say yes to everything – set boundaries and stick to them, whether at work, home or with friends and family. 

What if I feel stressed and I don’t know why?

Stress happens in response to some sort of threat – those life-threatening predators in early man’s time or an important presentation at work now. In other words, we can identify what’s causes the feelings of stress.

However, if you feel stressed and there doesn’t seem to be a particular threat present you may be suffering from anxiety.

Constantly worrying about the future or ruminating about the past are characteristic of anxiety. Even though these things aren’t happening right now, the worry and rumination triggers the stress response and this chronic state of stress can damage health.

If you think you may be suffering from anxiety, see your GP who may suggest a course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). In many areas CBT programmes can be accessed via the NHS self-referral service.

A final word

Feeling that we need to eliminate sources of stress in our lives can become stressful in itself! Because for many of us, this simply isn’t possible – we still need to earn money, deal with heavy workloads, appease relatives and juggle the whole lot.

That’s why it’s reassuring to know that a shift in our perspective can reduce stress levels. It might take a bit of practice, but it is possible to reframe demanding situations so that we cope as well as possible with the challenges that we face.

If you found How to re-shift the stress mindset useful, you’ll find more articles about stress and anxiety on our Health channel.

Tags: , Last modified: December 2, 2021

Written by 12:01 pm Health