We tend to view stress as a terrible thing. After all, stress sparks or leads to all sorts of health concerns and conditions. But while stress can be harmful, the real problem often resides in our perception of stress. We can protect against the negative effects of stress by viewing stressful situations as challenges we can overcome or lessons we can grow from.
In short, stress doesn’t have to stress us out—at least not so much.
Of course, rethinking stress when we’re stressed isn’t necessarily easy to do—especially when you’re in an overwhelmed, frazzled state.
What can help is to have some quick prompts at the ready. These questions can help us to immediately reframe a stressful situation and lessen our frustration and anxiety. They can serve as fast-acting reminders that we are resilient, we can harness stress for our well-being, and we’ve got this!
We can use stressful situations to help us take better care of ourselves—even though this might not come naturally, even when we see ourselves as fragile.
Here’s a list of prompts to help you rethink stress so it benefits your health (rather than harms it):
- What about this situation is really upsetting me or bothering me? What’s something I can do about this piece of the problem?
- What’s one challenge here I can solve?
- Tapping into my creativity, what are some innovative ideas that might help right now?
- If I were advising a friend on what to do, what would I suggest?
- What can I take off my plate so I can focus on feeling better?
- What’s a small self-care practice I can do?
- What lesson is this stressful situation trying to teach me?
- What does my body need in this moment?
- What is the opportunity here?
- How can I use this situation to serve me?
- How can I use this situation to energize and inspire me? Or to change unhelpful habits?
- How can I use my strengths to navigate this well?
It’s tough to change our minds about stress, especially when you’re really struggling or when the situation is complicated and heartbreaking. But I think the point is that stress isn’t all bad (or good). And when we adopt a more flexible mindset, we can truly support ourselves.
Maybe you’re not ready to identify the lesson just yet. Maybe you’re not ready to see the opportunity or to come up with solutions. But maybe you will be after you acknowledge your pain, journal about it, and talk to a friend.
Because stress can help us grow. According to researchers in Harvard Business Review, “Although the stress response can sometimes be detrimental, in many cases, stress hormones actually induce growth and release chemicals into the body that rebuild cells, synthesize proteins and enhance immunity, leaving the body even stronger and healthier than it was before.”
So when you’re ready, consider how you can use stress to actually support your well-being, reminding yourself that you are not some fragile flower. Yes, you might be struggling and suffering. And yes, this might be really hard.
And yes, you can navigate it (perhaps with some help? such as a trustworthy friend or therapist). Because you are powerful, too.