In a number of situations, accepting and embracing stress can make you healthier. Once you appreciate that going through stress makes you better at it, it can be easier to face each new challenge.
Kelly McGonigal, PhD, Stanford psychologist and popular TED talk presenter
The upcoming holidays can be a time bomb of expectations gone bad and Lizard Brain explosions. In last month’s newsletter I discussed the strong correlation between levels of stress, health problems, and premature death. The column shared how BrainWise® instructors apply the 10 Wise Ways to courses on mindfulness and contemplation, helping their students and clients better cope with stress and related challenges.
So when Dr. McGonigal introduced research that shows it is better for us to embrace stress, as opposed to trying to ban stress from our lives, it raised questions. Haven’t we been told that we need to get rid of the stress in our lives? She mentions one study that found simply setting a goal to reduce stress increased the outcome of depression, divorce, and getting fired. The reason? It increased people’s reliance on harmful coping strategies (e.g., drinking, procrastinating, or imagining worst-case scenarios.) An analysis of the research puts these findings in perspective: For people who are unaware of the 10 Wise Ways and don’t have coping skills, trying to reduce stress creates another set of problems.
BrainWise practitioners will recognize that the thinking skills they use are exactly the methods that provide the positive mindset McGonigal and other researchers recommend to embrace stress. BrainWise graduates know to get help from their constellation of support and recognize the red flags that signal the onset of stress. They manage their emotions by lowering their emotions elevator and use positive self-talk to deflect the impact of stress. With their emotions low, or off, the elevator, they easily separate fact from opinion, ask questions, identify choices, and assess the consequences of each choice. Their goal is not to get rid of stress, but to develop coping strategies that help stress work for them. They are able to recognize the success of their approach, and learn to handle all problems this way.
Some people think that these are a lot of steps to take. In fact, after observing a BrainWise class, a nonprofit executive looked at all of the BrainWise posters hanging on the walls, and asked students if they were able to remember everything. A teenager promptly answered. “It took time for me to learn about the 10 Wise Ways, but once I started using them, they made me think fast. They are in my head now, and easy to use.”
This describes the “aha!” moment when the rapidly firing brain neurons sync together, providing the information and guidance that helps us stop and think. BrainWise instructors see this happen when an aggrieved student walks away from a fight because “it’s not worth it,” or when a client says she did not attempt suicide because she thought about the consequences affecting others.