The unexpected benefits of stress.

Most people wince every time they hear the word “stress”.

It’s as if the whole world has been conditioned to respond to stress the same way, by word alone. A habitual thought response that is often more dangerous than the stressor itself.

What you believe matters.

The latest research in psychology examines stress in an entirely new way. Rather than viewing stress as unequivocally bad for one’s health, health psychologists pinpoint belief systems as the moderating variable between stress and well-being.

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 Stress perception ↔ Health benefits

“Embracing stress is more important than reducing stress according to Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal. Stress can make us stronger, smarter and happier — if we learn how to open our minds to it.” Source: Stanford News

Which is one of many reasons why I love Dr. McGonigal’s TED Talk. She encourages us to think about stress in a whole new empowering way.

Mindset is everything.

Using health psychology research, Dr. McGonigal reveals how perceiving stress as either positive or negative can have a “live or die” impact on individual stress response.

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Change your thoughts. Change your stress response.

Believe that stress is good for you (eg., stress focuses attention) and you live longer. Alternatively, believe that stress is bad for you (eg., stress causes heart attacks) and you die sooner.

But don’t take my word for it. You need to experience your own “Aha Moment”.

How to make stress your friend.

In the video below, Dr. McGonigal illustrates the upside of stress, including help seeking behaviour and increased energy. She also backs up her stress positive claims with census records and comprehensive health research.

Hope you enjoy these fresh, new ideas about stress as much as I do!

“Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat.  But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive.” Source: TED Talks

Helpful resources for adopting a resilience mindset:

  1. How to Turn Stress into an Asset by Amy Gallow
  2. Cognitive Reframing and Stress Management by Liz Scott
  3. Six Ways to Do Cognitive Restructuring by Dr. Alice Boyes
  4. Reducing Stress by Changing Your Thinking by Mind Tools
  5. Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life by Dr. Wayne Dyer
  6. The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good by Kelly McGonigal
Related Post: What's your stress threshold?

Better to bend than break.

Flexibility is essential for resilience.

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When life changes direction, are you able to change with it?

Are you flexible and open to new experiences?

Are you able to break free from old patterns and habits?

Or do you struggle to adapt to anything new and different?

In this video clip, I describe how the flexibility of palm trees helps them adapt and ultimately be strengthened by hurricanes.

Applying this Post in Everyday Life

“Do the opposite of what you normally do.”

  1. Wake up one hour earlier to enjoy some unexpected quiet time.
  2. Exercise at night instead of in the morning.
  3. Try gluten-free or vegan to support a dear friend.
  4. Swap your favourite hobby for something brand new.
  5. Sit in a different spot in the classroom than you’re used to.
  6. Drive a different, more scenic way home tonight.
  7. Meet three new people in your community this week.
  8. Trade television for library books for one month straight.
  9. Go to sleep on the opposite side of the bed.
  10. Spend the weekend silent and completely word free.

Change one routine today and open up to unforeseen freedom and opportunity.

Just Breathe.

Sometimes it’s the smallest things that have the greatest impact on our happiness.

Something so close, so within reach, we often forget it was there in the first place. The good night’s sleep we’re yearning for; waiting patiently at the end of each day. The connection to nature we’re searching for; available 24/7 just beyond our front door. That extra deep breath;  we frequently forget to take.

You possess a power so magnificent, so liberating, right under your nose.

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The deeper the breath. The deeper the peace.

Breathing is one of the few physiological functions that can be controlled both consciously and unconsciously.

When everything feels out of control, breathing is the one thing that will always be within our control. The times we’re under the most amount of stress is the exact time we need to expand our breathing – not restrict it.

We must become conscious of breath.

The next time you’re under any kind of pressure. Stuck in traffic. Rushing from class to class. Dealing with a difficult customer at work. Desperately trying to recall answers on a final exam. Wake up to the formidable power that exists within you. Right here. Right now. Right under your nose.

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Inhale peace.  Exhale pressure. 

Every time you smile, I smile.

 Did you know that today is World Smile Day?

It’s the first Friday in October every year. (October 6 in 2017.)

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Small gesture. Big impact.

I smile a lot. So much so, that one of my coworkers calls me “smiley” and almost everyone else I know (including my mom) calls me “sunshine”.☀️

What about you? Are you known as the smiler at work and in your family too?

Why do I smile so much? 1) I love brightening someone’s day, 2) As an extrovert, I’m wired to smile, 3) I have a lot to smile about, and 4) Smiling feels so darn good!

So it’s no wonder that I love this very cool day dedicated to smiling. If you’re also interested, you can check out the World Smile Day website. It’s filled with articles, history, and fun events happening around the world. Smiling rocks!

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Fascinating research on smiling.

Smiles are more than skin deep.

Have you ever wondered why you can’t help but smile back when someone smiles at you? And why it feels so good when someone (strangers included) smile. It turns out that smiling is linked to a specific type of neuron called mirror neurons.

“Neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolatti, MD, who with his colleagues at the University of Parma first identified mirror neurons, says that these neurons could help explain how and why we “read” other people’s minds and feel empathy for them.” Source: APA Monitor

The ripple effect of positivity.

Mirror theory helps us understand why emotions are so contagious. Just like mirrors reflecting back visual images, mirror neurons cause us to instinctively mimic the facial expressions and emotions of others. Simply seeing someone smile generates a community chain reaction of positive emotions and behaviour.

One more reason to share your good vibes with the world.

Every smile helps!

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Smiling is good for your health.

Need more reasons to smile?

Neurotransmitters called endorphins are released when you smile. An opiate like structure that is the chemical equivalent of morphine. Smiling has also been shown to reduce stress hormones and rewire the brain.

No wonder smiling feels so awesome!

Let’s Celebrate World Smile Day Together

For the next 24 hours, make note of all the things that make you smile. Big smiles. Small smiles. Sly smiles. Goofy smiles. Anything and everything in between.

Just writing about what makes you smile – will make you smile. I guarantee it.

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Teaching college students all about positive psychology makes me smile!

Don’t forget to share what makes you smile today.

Every time you smile, I smile.

Are you left brain or right brain dominant?

Left and Right Brain

Understanding Individual Differences

Have you ever wondered how your best friend lives so freely “moment-to-moment” while your mind is imprisoned by thoughts of past events and/or planning of future events (so neatly) written in your (overly structured) daytimer?

Brain Hemispheric Specialization provides insight into why some of us are more present focused and able to “go with the flow” (Right Brain dominant); while others are busy planning their days with the step-by-step precision of a NASA engineer (Left Brain dominant).

Left and Right Brain

Your Brain and Behaviour

Despite being identical in structure, the two halves of the brain specialize in how they process information (e.g., Past vs. Present), and how they function (e.g., Verbal vs. Nonverbal).

Time ProcessingPast vs. Present

  • Left hemisphere – processes information sequentially, one bit at a time
  • Right hemisphere – processes information globally, considering it as a whole

Brain FunctionsLinguistic vs. Spatial

  • Left hemisphere – includes verbal tasks, such as speaking, reading, thinking, and reasoning.
  • Right hemisphere – includes nonverbal areas such as the understanding of spatial relationships, recognition of patterns and drawings, music, and emotional expression.

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Neuroscience in Your Life

  1.  Complete the Left/Right Brain Dominance Test to find out which brain hemisphere currently dominates your life.
    • Personally, I obtained a score of 10 on this test – indicating that I am equally Left and Right Brained.
      • Which didn’t surprise me as I often “lay the table” with outlines, organizers, etc. (Left Brain) and the moment I feel safe, grounded, and prepared, I sit back and watch the ideas fly! (Right Brain)
    • What about you? How did you score on the Left/Right Brain Dominance Test? Was it what you expected? Were the results consistent with how you live your life? Did you learn something new about yourself?

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2. Watch the following 20 minute video to: a) learn firsthand about L-R brain specialization and b) discover how Neuroscientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor turned her real-life tragedy into an awe inspiring “Stroke of Insight“.  I am still moved to tears by her story! I hope you are too. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is resilience personified.

The more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemisphere, the more peaceful our planet will be. Jill Bolte Taylor

Psychology Class ↔ Psychology Blog

This post is a summary of this week’s psychology lecture and Chapter 2 of my psychology textbook. If you want to learn more, you can download a free PDF of my neuroscience and behaviour chapter by clicking on this link.

What side of the brain do you live on?

5 Ways to Reduce Stress Today.

Life is complicated. Stress management shouldn’t be.

1. Remember to Breathe.

2. Be Grateful for This Day.

3. Do What You Love.

4. Move Your Body.

5. Keep Looking Up.

Repeat Daily. 💙

Lay down your burdens.

No more futile tests.

No more unrelenting trials.

No more self inflicted tribulations.

Lay down your burdens.

Let. Them. Go.

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Take a breath. Take a rest.

You have strengthened from your burdens.

You have overcome great obstacles.

You have developed. You have grown.

You have earned your freedom ten times over.

Trust your wisdom. Trust your wings.

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 This is your time to fly.

Thriving Under Pressure.

How can two people experience the same stressful event and react in incredibly different ways?  What explains the difference between stress thrivers and non-thrivers?

Research shows that some individuals possess a set of resilience skills and traits that allows them to flourish in response to stress.

“Resilience is what gives people the psychological strength to cope with stress. They understand that setbacks happen and sometimes life is hard and painful. They still experience the emotional pain, grief, and sense of loss that comes after a tragedy, but their mental outlook allows them to work through such feelings and recover.” Source: Living Well

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Building Stress Resilience

Stress hardiness is a pathway to resilience – the ability to remain healthy and strong during stressful and challenging times.

Hardy individuals transform stressful circumstances into growth opportunities by reframing adversity and taking direct action in response to stress.

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Bouncing Back from Adversity

In the video below, I describe the 3 key components of stress hardiness:

1. Control

– Focusing on the things you can change and letting go of the things you can’t.

E.g., “You hold the key.”

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2. Challenge

– Reframing stressful challenges as opportunities for growth.

E.g., “Strength Training.

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3. Commitment

– Envisioning a higher purpose above and beyond the immediate stressor.

E.g., “Ask yourself why you started.

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Each component a critical factor in cultivating the ability to bounce back and thrive under pressure.

Can Stress Hardiness be Learned?

Yes! Research demonstrates that not only can stress hardiness be learned, it has wide-ranging applications in health and wellness, including:

1. Lowering test anxiety in high school students.

2. Reducing perceived stress in college students.

3. Protecting against war-related stress in Army Reserve forces.

4. Improving resilience and coping skills in stressed out professionals.

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Related Post: What's your stress threshold?

The Paradox of Strength.

Some lessons happen over a lifetime. Others happen in an instant.

Either way, the paradox of strength is that it develops though pain.

Each misfortune cultivates a renewed appreciation.

Each obstacle fosters a new level of perseverance.

Each sadness teaches a greater depth of compassion.

Each challenge harvests a new field of possibilities.

We must fall down to rise up.

Again and again and again.

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Related Post: I've never met a strong person with an easy past.