“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” – William James
Organisations have never viewed stress to be a pertinent issue. A recent study conducted by UBS, the Swiss Investment bank, has reported that an average employee in Mumbai works 3315 hours a year, the most among 77 major cities in the world. According to recent statistics, there has been a significant increase in the number of workers calling in sick in Indian cities. And, as a result, high stress is affecting the quality of life and the well‑being of individuals. The World Health Organisation describes stress as the ‘Global health epidemic of the 21st Century.’
The stress mindset
What exactly is stress? Stress is what happens when one is challenged out of his or her comfort zone. On the basis of the huge amount of medical research and media reports, it would be easy to conclude that stress has a negative impact on our lives. However, stress can have many wonderful attributes, and, in fact, stress by itself is not an inherent problem, but becomes so when you have a negative, destructive, or, an unproductive response to stress. As per Kelly McGonigal, the Professor at Stanford Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, stress is what arises when something you care about is at stake. Kelly has done extensive research on the positive attributes of stress, and, suggests that stress in a moderate degree can bring in unexpected benefits in the form of personal growth.
The concept of stress mindset has given a new dimension to the understanding of stress. Stress mindset is your belief about whether the stress has enhancing or debilitating consequences. Stress and the meaning attached to it are inextricably linked. We do not stress out on things for which we have no care, and, it is difficult to create a meaningful life without experiencing a certain amount of stress. The type of mindset you adopt towards stress – either ‘a stress help mindset ‘or ‘a stress hurt mindset’ – highly influences psychological and behavioural outcomes. Research has demonstrated that those who adopt a “stress help mindset” were more likely to seek feedback, and therefore grow, owing to experiencing stress. A positive stress mindset implies that stress is a challenge that needs to be embraced, and, you can actually make stress work in your favour, making you stronger, smarter, and happier, if you learn to think about it in the right way.
Measuring the stress mindset
There are plenty of instances how mindset can alter the effects of stress in sports too. For instance, in the book Just Listen, Mark Goulston describes Tiger Woods’ successful response to stress - “instead of becoming distressed, he becomes … more focused. Tiger goes from stressed to alert to determined.” He further explains how Tiger Woods’ coach has identified certain phrases that change the mind‑set, that when Woods thinks of them or listens to them, he gets mentally empowered to prevent his mind from reaching the point of ‘choking.’ This helps to explain the alternative ways of approaching life’s pressures.
To measure your own stress mindset, rate yourself from 1. Strongly Agree to 7. Strongly Disagree, on the following 8 Stress Mindset Items. *
- The Effects of stress are negative and should be avoided
- Experiencing stress facilitates my learning and growth
- Experiencing stress depletes my health and vitality
- Experiencing stress enhances my performance and productivity
- Experiencing stress inhibits my learning and growth
- Experiencing stress improves my learning and vitality
- Experiencing stress debilitates my performance and productivity
- The effects of stress are positive and should be utilized
A stress-enhancing mindset is indicated by your agreement with items 2,4,6 and 8; if you agree with items 1, 3, 5 and 7, you hold a stress-debilitating mindset. If you have a stress enhancing mindset, you should, therefore, score at 4 or above per item on the even-numbered items, and 2 or below on the odd-numbered items.
Research suggests that improving one’s response to stress could be a matter of shifting one’s perspective or mindset. According to Kelly McGonigal, “once you appreciate that going through stress makes you better at it, it can be easier to face each new challenge.” She adds, “When you embrace stress you can transform fear into courage, isolation into connection and suffering into meaning.” Several research studies that have reported that viewing stress is a helpful part of life, rather than harmful, and is associated with better health, emotional wellbeing and productivity at work–even during periods of high stress. Kelly emphasises that stress can make us stronger, smarter and happier – if we learn how to open our minds to it.
In her book, the Upside of Stress, Kelly describes how your thought about stress matters, because it changes how you respond to stress. If you view stress as harmful, you might respond to it in less positive or helpful ways, whether its getting “drunk” to release stress, procrastinating to avoid stress, or imagining the worst-case scenarios. In contrast, viewing stress more positively seems to encourage people to cope in ways that help them thrive, whether its tackling the source of stress, seeking social support, or finding meaning in it. Sometimes, the goal is not to decrease the level of stress or to erase it completely, both of which can be impossible at times, rather the goal is to reshape how you think about stress.
How can one develop a positive mindset towards stress? Let us examine some beliefs about stress. The three most protective beliefs about stress are –
1. To view your body’s stress response as helpful, not debilitating – to view stress as energy you can use
2. To view yourself as able to handle, and even learn and grow from, the stress in your life
3. To view stress as something that everyone deals with, and not something that proves how uniquely screwed up you or your life is. This kind of stress is beneficial stress, it helps you grow and stretch. Emerging science on stress mindset shows that it is possible to change attitude, even if we are used to thinking of stress as harmful.
The pace and intensity of contemporary work culture is not likely to change, it is of extreme importance to build a ‘stress helps’ mindset to effectively navigate through our professional and personal life. If we assume that all stress is bad can create its own self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, if one sees stress as product of one’s own perception, we may well be on your way to a more positive outlook on life.
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