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How to Make Stress Your Friend

Natalie
Stein
July 6, 2022
How to Make Stress Your Friend
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In this article: 

  • Chronic stress is linked to health risks, including heart disease, anxiety, and weight gain.
  • Research shows that how you react to stress may affect its impact on your health. In one study, people who thought stress was more harmful and who reported high levels of stress were more likely to die prematurely.
  • Mindfulness, which focuses on being aware of what is happening right now and accepting it, can help make stress less harmful. Other stress management techniques include deep breathing, exercising, and progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Lark can help you manage stress as you work towards weight loss and health goals.

Does stress ever get you down? Does it seem like stress is always getting you down? Too much stress over time can be unhealthy in the short term and long run. But it doesn't have to be bad!

It turns out that stress doesn't have to be harmful. Instead, stress can be a healthy part of your life. Here's what you should know about how stress can affect your body and how to accept and manage stress to make sure it's your friend, not your enemy.

Stress Response and Health Effects

The natural stress response lets your body rise to the occasion. You might feel the stress response when it's time to give an important presentation or you need to get through a busy day. Your heart may pound and your blood sugar surges to give you more energy. Adrenaline and cortisol are two stress hormones that cause these effects. 

Mayo Clinic describes what can happen when the stress response never stops. Chronic stress happens when you are always facing stressors. Your body never gets a chance to recover. Overwhelming stress is linked to higher risk for these health problems.

  • Heart disease
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches and muscle pain
  • Unwanted weight gain
  • Trouble sleeping and concentrating

Still, your own mindset and actions can affect how stress impacts you. 

Stress Is Bad…If You Think It Is

Stress is more harmful if you think stress is bad. In one study that looked at 186 million American adults, 33.7% of them reported high levels of stress. But stress on its own wasn't linked to premature death. Instead, these were the findings.

  • Participants with higher stress levels and a belief that stress is harmful to health had a 43% higher risk of premature death.
  • Participants who believed that stress "affected health a lot" were five times as likely to report being in poor mental health. 
  • Participants who believed that stress "affected health a lot" were four times as likely to report having poor physical health.

The study is in Health Psychology

How to Embrace Your Stress: Monitor and Acceptance Theory

Mindfulness can help improve your relationship with stress. Mindfulness training helps you be in the moment and accept it. Monitor and Acceptance Theory (MAT) is described in Clinical Psychology Review

It involves first monitoring your situation by noticing how you feel and what is going on around you. You become more aware. Next, you learn to accept it. 

It doesn't take long to see the effects of mindfulness training. Studies described in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology included an 8-week mindfulness training program and a 2-week program. Both programs led to increased awareness of positive experiences in daily life.

More Ways to Manage Stress

Mayo Clinic has some ideas for making stress less harmful.

  • Identify stressors. Try to be specific. For example, instead of identifying "meetings" as stressful, you might notice that "being late to meetings" is stressful. Or, instead of "the COVID-19 pandemic" being stressful, you might find it stressful that you're "not able to see your friends regularly due to the pandemic."
  • Identify what you can and cannot control. Some things have simple solutions. For example, if being rushed in the morning is stressful, maybe you can make breakfast and pack lunch the night before to save time in the morning. 
  • Consider changing your reaction to stressors that you cannot control, such as sitting in traffic during your commute. Do what you can about it, such as listening to an audio book while driving, but try not to let it get to you.
  • Prioritize your commitments. Some things are more important than others. Don't waste time and energy on things that don't really matter.
  • Get support from friends and family. Ask for a referral to a mental health professional if you need it.

There are many actions you can take to manage stress. These are some.

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Meditating
  • Visualization
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Healthy eating
  • Regular physical activity

Stress management techniques can help keep stress from being as harmful. Lark can help you with stress management techniques and mindfulness. Plus, Lark can help with other aspects of health. Lark can analyze the nutrients in your food, monitor your workouts, track your weight, and offer feedback in real-time to provide personalized coaching.

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