This post by Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, first appeared on Forbes.com.
Do you know anyone who is stressed? It’s not news that stress is a problem and we don’t need a lot of statistics to prove it. The latest annual “Stress in America” survey from the American Psychological Association reports 83% of Americans polled say their stress levels have stayed the same or increased. Overall, Americans think they are significantly more stressed than is good for their health and realize that they overeat, drink, and lose sleep because of stress; and people report they are anxious, irritable, snap at their loved ones, and call in sick because of stress.
But stress is not the enemy. The real enemy is our old school approach that views stress as a toxic state needing to be extinguished, eradicated and eliminated.
Stress is a normal biological response to adversity. It helps us get things done and allows us to apply focus and energy when we need it. Once we see stress for what it is, we can turn to reframing our thinking about the things that get us stressed, so that we balance them with grace, calm and joy.
My years of experience in consumer health and wellness make it very clear to me that knowledge of how to be healthy does not in fact help people make healthier habits, whereas, developing self-awareness and coping skills can. When we begin to think about our sources of stress—which usually involve our commitments and expectations—we can experience significant changes in our stress levels. We take back control.
Resilience, grit, stick-to-itiveness – that ability to access your skills for coping with adversity is something you can learn and use to manage your stress with the added advantage of coping with other important aspects of life, such as health, family, work and relationships.
How exactly does resilience help with stress? Why do some people respond with anxiety and frustration, while others respond to the same or similar situation with a calm, cool head? The answer found is in the rules each has about how the world should be and the resilience they show when those rules are violated. Changing our thinking styles about these priorities and issues gives us coping power over them.
For example, according to the APA, women report a higher level of stress than men and are more likely to say it has increased. Women are also more likely than men to report that money and family responsibilities are very or somewhat significant sources of stress. ‘I need to be there for my kids at dinnertime’ crashes up against a long commute and a demanding job; ‘I need to work hard to get ahead’ impacts our willingness to turn off the phone during vacation, or take an hour to exercise before we head to the office. When our thoughts and beliefs collide with our obligations and commitments we feel stressed. Long commutes and financial uncertainty are undoubtedly stressful, but often our thinking about what we should do, must do, etc. makes it worse.
Our research has shown that by tackling this problematic thinking, people are able to boost their emotion control, sense of purpose, peace of mind and ability to focus by almost 25% and productivity by nearly 40%. Ironically, when these things happen, their ability to cope with job and financial stress improve; and they take better care of themselves.
People who cope well summon resilience, not calm. They are able to self-manage their emotions and impulses, to accurately interpret signs of danger and opportunity, and to remain realistically optimistic about themselves and their opportunity to succeed.
The traditional approach to managing stress is to allay it with a pill, a massage or yoga class. None of these, nor the ways most people attempt to alleviate stress – watching 2+ hours of television per day, surfing the internet, eating and drinking – address stress at its core. By changing thinking styles we can intervene upstream, at the root cause, for permanent lifestyle and thinking-style changes. This effectively means rewiring our operating systems to take an inside-out approach to well-being:
- embrace stress as a necessary part of your life
- focus on the underlying thinking styles and reclaim control of how you respond to life’s challenges
- then re-examine the physical and tangible stressors in your life
Stress is the lit fuse that can spark our creativity and productivity. We need to learn how to keep it from causing internal explosion, defuse it as a weapon of ill health and let it spark our best lives.
Order our new book, meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calmer, and Happier, co-authored by Jan Bruce, Adam Perlman, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, and Andrew Shatté, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer.