5 Strategies for Transforming Stress from Overwhelming to Super Helpful
Stress is always seen as a negative, awful thing. And sometimes it really is a negative, awful thing.
After all, stress is rough on our bodies. It might raise our heart rate and blood pressure. It might trigger headaches and tension. It might prevent us from being able to rest and relax. It might keep us up at night, wondering and worrying and staring at the ceiling.
But that doesn’t always have to be the case. Stress can actually be helpful, and we can use stress to better our lives (more on that below).
For instance, “a little stress emotionally can help build resiliency, bravery and confidence,” said Stefani Reinold, MD, MPH, a board certified psychiatrist and perinatal mental health expert in private practice in San Antonio, Texas. “A little stress physically can help grow our muscles, improve endurance, and increase cardiovascular health. Even relationship stress can improve trust and forge a stronger, more secure bond with those we love.”
In other words, stress gives us the opportunity to grow emotionally, physically and even spiritually, more so than if we’re “drifting along without any stress,” Dr. Reinold said.
For many of us, the problem with stress is that it can easily become overwhelming, especially if we don’t have the tools to navigate it effectively. The great news is that we can navigate it effectively when we adopt several key strategies. In fact, we can make stress work for us.
First, it’s important to understand what stress looks like for you. Pay attention to the situations that you deem to be stressful, said Michele Kerulis, EdD, LCPC, a professor with Counseling@Northwestern, Northwestern University’s Online Masters in Counseling Program and an executive committee member of the American Counseling Association. She suggested keeping a journal, and jotting down where you frequently experience stress (maybe at work or at home or during a specific activity). Then reflect on how you react to stress: What psychological and physical symptoms do you notice when stress strikes? Finally, she said, explore what stress means to you. How do you define stress?
As you’re identifying your personal stress patterns, consider using these strategies for capitalizing on stress, so you can create more fulfilling, less stressful days.
Use stress as a barometer. Stress can help us better understand whether something is actually worth it. For example, maybe you’re in a relationship that’s become stressful, so you decide to sort out whether you’d like to stay by exploring whether “the stress level [is] justified by the level of fulfillment it is bringing to your life,” said Alyson Cohen, LCSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in working with adolescents, families and young adults in New York City.