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How to change your perception of stress

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

Stress has developed a pretty bad name for itself, for good reasons too. We try to avoid being stressed as it causes us unwanted feelings of anxiety and uncomfortableness. Stress has been linked to undesirable physical and mental health problems. However, there have been studies that prove our perception of stress changes the negative impact it can have on us. While it’s not a good habit to be chronically stressed, it is shown a small amount of stress can be positive if we change our thinking towards stress itself.

What is stress?

Stress is our body's innate fight or flight system. It’s primal use was to keep us alert and alive in times of danger, it floods our body with hormones that would be able to take action. In the modern world, stress is our response to a challenge or a threat. This can come in any form, emotional, physical, mental. 

The perception of stress 

A longitudinal study done by Harvard included 30,000 participants and looked into our perception of stress and how it affects us over time. This study showed evidence that those who saw stress as a very negative experience were linked to a premature death or stress related health issues. Those that were under significant stress and viewed it as detrimental to their health were 43% more likely to die a premature death. Those who were under significant stress but did not view it as negative to their health were in the group at the lowest risk of premature death even lower than the group who were under less stress but viewed it as detrimental to health. 

While this is only one study it raises an interesting point, if we can change our perception of stress perhaps we can reduce some of the health implications that come with it.

How to change our perception 

1. Recognise stress

If you’ve read all the research that shows stress is bad for you and believe this, start by acknowledging the possibility you can change your thinking. Recognise what starts happening to your body when you become stressed. When you’ve identified you are under stress you can change your thoughts. 

2. Embrace the stress 

Once you’ve recognised you are becoming stressed or under stress start to shift your thinking towards the matter. Look at how it may be helpful, it might be making you more productive, more alert, improves your cognitive functioning and it will increase your resilience for next time you’re stressed. Focus on the good things instead of the bad. This will also help if you’re trying to block stress completely. Blocking it out will only result in a complete boil over in the future. Remember the stress will pass, so the best thing you can do it embrace it.

3. Find the things you can control 

Find the things that help you manage stress and focus on these in times of intense stress. It might be going to a yoga class, reading a book or eating healthy. Stress isn’t usually within your control, by taking care of things you can control it will help shift your mentality and reduce the stress you’re under. When your effective at managing your stress it will also make your experience with stressful situations more positive. This will leave you inclined to view stress more positively in the future. 

4. Reframe as a challenge 

Instead of viewing stress as a threat view it as a challenge to overcome. You are frequently under stress because of a deadline to hit or project due. Think of the gain you will receive by completing it and how accomplished you’ll feel after. 

It's important to note this post isn't referring to severe chronic stress or anxiety, something that should be discussed with a healthcare professional. However, becoming stressed at times is inevitable, it could be regarding a work deadline, moving house or just having a lot going on at once. Next time you’re feeling under pressure try embrace stress instead of seeing it as complete evil. Stress once existed to help us out in times of danger so there’s no reason why it can’t be our friend in the modern world. Read Diving headfirst into a world of stress.

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