New research shows that when you embrace stress you may actually improve your health. Embracing stress means that you are more aware of how others and events impact your life, which ideally leads to change. Most people are so stuck in day-to-day patterns they don’t see the big picture: the people we spend time with can also be causing us major stress and hurting our health. Not only can you experience stress from your own life, but those around you can cause secondhand stress as well. Research indicates that while stress can actually be good in your life, secondhand stress is even more powerful than we once thought; resulting in chronic fatigue, anxiety, and depression.
How You Embrace Stress and Improve Your Health
Stress keeps you alert and alive, it’s good for you in many ways. According to new research by Stanford “stress can actually be a helpful part of your life instead of harmful as normally imagined.” says Stanford University’s Assistant Professor of Psychology Alia Crum. Even high levels of stress can be associated with better health, emotional well-being and productivity at school or at work. Many of the problems associated with stress stem from viewing it as a negative, instead embrace stress and the positive impacts it has in your life. Focus on stress as something helpful your body does naturally and that everyone deals with can remove many of the fears that come from stress and help you learn from and channel it in positive way.
What is Healthy Stress?
Normal levels of stress allow you to take on challenges and deal with problems quickly, but too much stress can be detrimental to your health. Don’t embrace stress when its chronic, which damages both brain and body. The effects of chronic stress have been linked to depression, heart disease, cancer and other physical and mental health issues. So how can you tell the difference? Acute stress is generally triggered by a perceived threat. It is short-lived and stress hormones return to normal as soon as the threat passes. Chronic stress is instead ongoing—the stressors don’t go away and the brain does not have time to settle done before the next stressor is triggered. Many things can trigger chronic stress from work to trouble with children or long-term relationship, financial problems or ailing parents.
How Secondhand Stress Works
Unlike stress in your life, secondhand stress appears from interacting with stressful individuals in your life. Research at the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and Clemens Kirschbaum from the Dresden University of Technology found that being exposed to someone in a stressful situation can trigger stress responses in your own body. Cortisol levels spiked in 95 percent of people who were under stress and also on their observers. Those who were watching through a one-way mirror, were also feeling the stress. Of those observing the stressed subjects, 26% also showed a significant cortisol increase, and most observers reported feeling tense, anxious, and uncomfortable. The effect was stronger when the observer was in a relationship with the participant (40%).
Children and Secondhand Stress
How does this impact you? Depending on your job, your family, and your relationships, you may find yourself interacting with stressed out or anxious people frequently. This doesn’t just effect you; those who love and care about you are also at risk due to your inability to manage your own stress.
Children are even more vulnerable to secondhand stress than many parents assume. A study at University of California, San Francisco, tested the impact for secondhand stress and children. Even when children are not in the stressful situation, they parallel their parents energy and cues—their stress levels rise when their parents are under pressure. In the study, mothers were given anxiety-producing tasks to complete. Assessed with heart-rate monitors, the mothers’ levels indicated they were feeling significantly stressed. When reunited with their children, who were unaware of the experience their mothers had just faced, their heart-rate monitors mimics their mothers’. Like Velcro, children can pick up on the stress of their parents or caregivers.
Make Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Stress
- Identify triggers. Become more mindful of what your body feels like in situations that are prompting some discomfort. The next time you feel an increase in stress, slow yourself down enough to acknowledge, name it and describe how it makes you feel physically and emotionally.
- Adjust your autopilot response. Coping skills, cognitive behavioral techniques, mindfulness, and mediation can all be helpful for incorporating effective coping skills into your life, so that stress doesn’t continue to wear away at your body and mind, and negatively effect your loved ones.
- Take control over your physical health. Make sure your brain and hormones are balanced, your stomach is in good shape and your diet isn’t impacting your health. Test your neurotransmitters and consult with your practitioner if you feel like you are suffering. When you are getting the right nutrients and your body is able to absorb them, it helps you combat stressors. The more caffeine you drink, the more foods you eat that cause a histamine response in your system (anything you are allergic or sensitive to), or a diet heavy in processed foods will make you easily susceptible to stress. Make sure your brain and body are balanced to combat any stress your day may bring.
When you are feeling overwhelmed others feel it too. If you embrace stress and start to take control over how it impacts your life everyone feels better. Your partner, children, friends and coworkers would much rather be around a peaceful and happy person rather than a frazzled one. Get a handle on it now before it takes over your life.
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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant. Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.
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