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Stress in some form will always be a part of your life. It’s completely unavoidable. Which is a huge challenge because repetitive or chronic stress can wreak havoc on the body and mind.
There are countless studies that indicate persistent stress contributes to the development of heart disease, asthma, obesity, depression, gut problems, and much more.
So how do you protect your health from the effects of stress if it’s a fact of life? Is it even possible? Well, a recent study suggests that a lack of resiliency to stress is the reason why stress is harmful to your health, not the stress itself.
That’s good news because while you can’t change the stressful events that happen, you can build your resilience to stress, lessening the impact stress has on how you feel and your long-term health.
Think about the last time you were stressed about something. Maybe it was a missed deadline at work, a stressful interaction with a coworker, or an argument at home. Were you able to shake it off quickly or did you dwell on it for hours or even days later?
Your ability to quickly bounce back to your normal self after a stressful event is called resilience. Fixating on what caused stress and letting it spiral into deeper negative emotions causes a single stressful moment to have a ripple effect, and it’s this type of chronic stress that’s the problem.
A recent study published in Psychological Science suggests that your level of resilience can determine whether stress will cause long-term harm.
The study surveyed more than 1,000 adults about the stressors they face on a daily basis (such as at work, home, or school). Then, the scientists asked them how long the stressors typically affected their mood.
Almost 10 years later, the scientists surveyed the same people again. They asked them questions about their physical health, chronic illnesses, and how much they felt that their health interfered with day-to-day activities. This was to evaluate how stress resiliency affects a person’s health.
When the results were in, the scientists noticed a fascinating relationship between persistent stress and health effects, noting, “higher levels of lingering negative affect are associated with greater numbers of chronic conditions and worse functional limitations 10 years later.”
This suggests that those who dwell on stress are significantly more at risk for developing health issues down the road.
It’s worth noting that small amounts of stress are normal and healthy. Think of your body’s response to an immediate threat: a release of adrenaline provides the boost of strength and speed you need to act quickly.
Researchers at UC Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute even commented saying, “some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioral, and cognitive performance.”
But when stress becomes chronic, meaning the stress is persistent and affects you over a long period of time, that’s when it becomes a problem.
Let’s say you got stuck in traffic for an extra half hour this morning. Then, when you stepped out of your car, you spilled your travel mug full of coffee all over the passenger’s seat.
You have two choices here: let what happened hang like a dark cloud over everything else that follows that day, or, you can take 8 deep breaths and tell yourself, “Well that sucks, but there’s still a whole day ahead of me. I shouldn’t let this sabotage the rest of my day.”
While it’s tempting to get mad and stew over stressful events, it usually doesn’t help. Acknowledging your feelings, then releasing them so you can move past them, on the other hand, is an example of strong resilience. Sure, the stressors are still unpleasant, but this way, they won’t ruin your day.
Resilience is what keeps short-term stress from becoming chronic and harmful. It’s the path that will lead you to greater happiness and improved emotional health.
Of course, you can’t just snap your fingers and magically develop the resilience of a well-trained spiritual guru. It’s a skill that needs to be practiced. But there are some simple tricks you can use to build your resilience.
Meditation has numerous health benefits, including helping to improve your control over your own emotions. It lets you be in the driver’s seat rather than emotions dictating how you react to the world. You might think you don’t have time to meditate, but even just a few minutes can help to calm the mind. By focusing on being present, stresses can melt away.
Bad things happen all the time. But so do good things. When dealing with something stressful, make a list of the good things happening in your life. Practicing gratitude, even for the littlest of things, helps to shift our perspective and focus our attention back to something hopeful.
The next time you notice yourself getting stressed, step back and take 8 deep breaths. Studies have found that counting your breaths taps into the brain’s emotional control regions. This can allow you to keep a level head while under stress so your emotions don’t rule.
While it’s impossible to get rid of stress altogether, you can decrease your sensitivity to stressful events. And that’s exactly what stress management techniques do; they reduce the burden of stress so it seems less overwhelming. These include daily exercise, good nutrition, and getting enough sleep. Laughing counts. If it helps, watch funny cat videos.
There’s a reason why airplane safety drills tell you to put your oxygen mask on first. If you’re not tending to your own well-being, then you can’t be in a position to help others. By looking after yourself, whether it’s through hobbies or maintaining close friendships, you’ll be more fulfilled and better able to deal with whatever stresses arise.
If you practice shifting your perspective on life and practice these tips, you can improve your resilience to stress. In turn, this can prevent you from becoming chronically stressed, so that stress doesn’t harm your health down the road.
Resilience is the inner strength that you can draw on to bounce back from stressful things. That makes resilience the missing puzzle piece on managing stress. With greater resilience, you’ll learn how to be happier and thrive so that nothing holds you back.