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9 Strategies To Change Your Stress Mindset For The Better

Written by: Zoryna O'Donnell, Senior Level Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


The recent resignation of New Zealand prime minister Jucinda Ardern due to burnout sent shockwaves across the world and brought the topic of stress and mental health to the forefront of our minds yet again.

man surfing on a big wave.

More often than not, we think about stress as something bad; something to avoid at all costs, because, by now, we know very well the negative impact of stress on our health and well-being. We may even dream about a stress-free life for ourselves. Yet, it is probably impossible to be completely stress-free and to be alive at the same time. This is because both stress and our response to it are essential for our survival and flourishing as species.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines stress as “any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain” and points out that stress is our body's response to anything that requires attention or action.

We would not be around now if our prehistoric ancestors did not “stress out” about sabretooth tigers and other beasts and situations threatening their existence, and did not take action to respond to those threats by fight or flight.

We all experience stress but the way we respond to it can make a big difference to our well-being and life overall. This is because stress response includes both physiological (driven by hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol) and psychological (thought) responses to our perception of various situations. This means that a threat (aka stressor) does not have to be real to evoke a stress response in our bodies.

A dog sitting quietly in the corner of the room could be seen as a cute and cuddly puppy or as a dangerous animal by different people – depending on their previous experience of dealing with dogs. What they think about this dog will determine whether or not their stress response will be triggered by the mere presence of the dog in the room.

Even our thoughts about stress will impact on how it will affect us. A study published online in 2011 discovered that having a high level of stress increased people’s risk of premature death only when it was combined with their belief that stress was bad for health.

In fact, not all stress is bad for us. A few years ago, Dr. Daniela Kaufer, an associate professor at UC Berkeley and her colleagues conducted a study which established that moderate, short-lived stress can improve alertness, boost behavioural and cognitive performance and memory.

We all know about acute and chronic stress (bad stress or distress), but there is one other kind – eustress (good stress) which is less known.

Mariam-Webster Dictionary defines eustress as “a positive form of stress having a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance, and emotional well-being.”

With eustress, we generally look forward to the outcome of the situation and know that this stress is time-limited. For example, when we are moving home, starting a new job, travelling somewhere unfamiliar or are learning a new skill.

According to Dr. Hans Selye who is known as the “father of stress research”, there are many emotional and physical health benefits of eustress, for example:

  • It appears when perceived challenges are matched by our perceived ability to cope with them and, therefore, we feel good about it;

  • It keeps us interested, excited and motivated;

  • It focuses our energy and improves our performance to enable us to achieve the result we want more efficiently.

Allaya Cooks-Campbell, BetterUp staff writer in her article about stress wrote: “Good stress results from engagement, which often leads to flow. Flow is associated with higher levels of happiness and productivity. In fact, many psychologists and coaches believe that flow is the antidote to burnout and languish.”

It may sound counter-intuitive, but even bad stress can be used to our advantage – it can help us to build our resilience in terms of our mental toughness and capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties. We can build our resilience while facing adversity by developing our coping skills and strategies.

Here are nine strategies which can make stress work for you.

1. Change how you perceive stress – remind yourself that not all stress is bad, that it is temporary and that you can learn how to use stress to your advantage. Watching this TEDTalk by Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, may give you just the motivation you need to change your stress mindset.

2. Take good care of yourself eat healthy food, drink enough water, get enough sleep, take breaks and make time to do things you enjoy. As Ryan Kehr, content development manager at Harvard Business Publishing pointed out, “To make stress work for you over the long term, it’s key to have habits that strengthen your mental and physical well-being.”

3. Manage your energy – learn about ultradian rhythms and use this knowledge to boost your productivity, energy, and well-being. Working with your natural rhythms rather than against them is one of the best ways to improve our productivity, to make more empowered choices, and to access your inner strength, according to Pilar Gerasimo, author of the book “The Healthy Deviant”.

4. Build your self-awareness – it will help you track and monitor your feelings and early symptoms of stress, so that you can respond to them effectively and mindfully, rather than just reacting instinctively. Research shows that recognising and acknowledging your stress by putting feelings into words is helpful in managing negative emotional experiences.

5. Focus on the things you can control – according to Dr. Kaufer, “Stress is much less likely to be harmful if people have some control over the situation”.

6. Reconnect with your values and goals – this will help you to find the ways to use your stress to achieve what is important to you. Ask yourself whether you are responding to your situation or challenge in the way that supports your values and goals. Think how you can change your response to this stress so that it is better aligned with your goals and your purpose.

7. Build your network of mutual support – according to research, support accessible to us through social ties to other individuals, groups, and the larger community support will increase our resilience to stress. Another study shows that helping others can also benefit our own mental health and wellbeing. For example, it can reduce stress as well as improve mood, self-esteem and happiness. A win-win strategy!

8. Know when to step away – you don’t have to endure stress when it is neither useful nor unavoidable. “Set a boundary and walk away", recommends Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a resilience expert and author of “From Stressed to Resilient: The Guide to Handle More and Feel It Less."

9. Use your experiences as opportunities to grow – reflect on your experience of stressful times and identify lessons for the future. Think of what you can do differently next time you are facing challenges so that you could achieve even better results and become even more resilient.

Of course, you can find many more useful tips on the internet. Enjoy testing them out, select those that work best for you and make them part of your own success strategy.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn, an American professor emeritus of medicine and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic said, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

You can’t avoid stress, but you can learn to think about stress differently and use it to your advantage.

Follow Zoryna on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. You can also visit her website to learn more.


Zoryna O'Donnell , Senior Level Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Zoryna O’Donnell is a change consultant, coach, mentor, trainer, public speaker and author. She aims to help organisations and individuals to exceed their expectations of what is possible for them to achieve by unlocking the power of their brains and minds, enriching their soft skills and increasing resilience. Zoryna does this by using insights from applied neuroscience, psychology, behavioural science and other relevant disciplines.

She is a creator, principal coach and trainer delivering a number of high-impact coaching and training programmes, including the Leading Change with the Brain in Mind™ Programme and the Breakthrough Leadership Development Programme™ - accredited by The Institute of Leadership and Management, one of the most prestigious leadership authorities in the world.



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