What exactly is a stressful situation? Is it true that they are always debilitating or is it true that something that doesn’t kill you actually makes you stronger?
We often find ourselves in situations that cause big emotional responses in us. It’s common for these moments to be given the catch-all description of “stressful” causing people to believed they are “stressed” but when we examine these emotions we can also find them occurring in situations that we really wouldn’t describe as stressful. As the psychologist Dr Jeremy Dean explains, the difference partly lies in the way the emotions are interpreted:
“Take the physical feelings you get when you’re about to talk in public: the sweaty palms, the churning stomach and the spinning room. Isn’t that much the same physical experience you get when you’ve fallen in love?
Yet one experience most would run a mile from and the other we enjoy. The difference is partly down to the meaning we give these events”.
But how debilitating can it get? Does it cause real damage or can it be re-interpreted?
Well, one thing we do recognise are the different mindsets that exist around stress. These mindsets drive the way we think about situations, they shape our attitude and ultimately they impact on the way we interpret what’s going on.
A recent investigation by researchers Crum et al (2013) looked into whether we can change our mindset to stress so that we see if in a positive way and whether that positive perspective had had a positive impact on the way we react to it.
Their tests involved showing 3 groups of bankers different 10-minute videos. Each video portrayed stress through a different mindset: ‘Stress-is-enhancing’, ‘stress-is-debilitating‘ and a neutral one.
The ‘stress-is-enhancing‘ video suggested that people are at their best when they are under pressure. The video backed up the suggestion with real-life examples and case studies. The ‘stress-is-debilitating‘ video suggested exactly the opposite of this and the neutral video acted as a control.
Over the following few weeks, the bankers regularly reported back on their mindset towards stress, their work performance and their perceived stress levels. When all the results were analysed they showed that the group that had seen the ‘stress-is-enhancing’ video had developed a more positive stress mindset. This led to them achieving higher levels of performance at work and reporting fewer psychological problems.
These results show that a positive stress mindset can be developed by something as simple as watching a 10-minute video.
Further analysis by Crum et al. found that the positive shift in mindset was accompanied by those people wanting more feedback, seeking more information and using it to help them solve problems. They also found a physiological difference too. The positive stress mindset group were found to have lower levels of cortisol, the hormone that is closely associated with the stress response. Excessive cortisol can have a debilitating effect on a person.
So whether stress is good or bad for really depends on your mindset. As Dr Dean summarises:
“This evidence underlines the fact that, as so often, what you believe influences how both mind and body reacts”.
If you are keen to learn more about stress and how you can develop a stronger more positive mindset then click HERE or call us on 01284 799 355.
Image credit: Truthout.org
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