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?

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?

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?

Teaching Stress Resilience at School.

How can educators help foster stress resilience in their students?

Resilience begins with a strength mindset.

At the start of my  stress resilience presentation  I discuss how openness to challenge is essential for success.

Too much time in our comfort zone stalls growth. Feeling safe is important. But we shouldn’t consider it a resting place. More of a launching pad!

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Reframe openness as a verb and challenge your students to try something new today!

Is Happiness a Choice?

The Happiness Question

Have you ever wondered why some people remain upbeat and positive despite the chaos that surrounds them while others are utterly miserable even in good times?  What explains the difference between these two groups of individuals?

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Are happy people just lucky people born happy? And unhappy people born miserable?  Or is happiness a choice we make day by day, moment to moment?

The answer to this question is twofold. On one hand, 50% of happiness is predetermined by biology (e.g., inborn temperament) while the remaining 50% is influenced by life circumstances and intentional activities.

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The Happiness Formula

As shown above, research indicates that approximately 40% of happiness is intentional activities (e.g., daily exercise, meditation, forgiveness), 10% is life circumstances (e.g., income), and 50% is genetic (e.g., temperament),

Though we may have little control over genetics and/or life circumstances — we do have personal agency when it comes to intentional activities. Be it a walk around the block, gardening in the backyard, or simply relaxing by the fire.

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Being an optimist (and a positive psychologist), I tend to focus on the parts of life where I have influence. For both myself, and the people around me.

Even though you might not be the happiest (or healthiest, or richest, or most zen) person in the room, you (like me) have room (potential) to grow and expand – no matter your life circumstances or genetic make up.

The Happiness Webcast

In the presentation below, I explore the happiness formula (genetics vs. environment) in more detail. Including: 1) the developmental origins of happiness, 2) how individual differences in personality affect happiness, and 3) the paradoxical relationship between traumatic life experiences and happiness (posttraumatic growth).

Happiness Talk

Click on  Is Happiness a Choice  to learn more.
The video is in webcast format so it requires Adobe software.
It will run on your computer, but might not work on your phone.

Special note: I take medical conditions such as clinical depression and anxiety into account when discussing “Is Happiness a Choice?” in my webcast. I underscore that intentional activities such as meditation, exercise, and proper nutrition will not cure mental illness, though they will help tremendously.

For example, medical research has demonstrated that exercise (an intentional activity) improves mood in individuals with anxiety and depression. And in turn, enhances personal agency and locus of control ⇐ the number one (environmental) contributor to happiness.

The Happiness Choice

  1. Celebrate your one-of-a-kind happiness. Do not compare it to your brother or your sister, or to a neighbour or a (facebook) friend. FOMO is the “thief of joy”. For what determines your happiness is unique to you to you, and only you.
  2. Embrace your freedom to choose experiences within your control (e.g., gratitude, helping others, forgiveness ), and the power to let go of what is not (e.g., the past, the opinion of others, the weather).
  3. Need help getting started? Try any or all of these 13 simple intentional activities over the course of a month, a day, or a year. The choice is yours!

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Related Post: You hold the key.

You were born to thrive.

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Do not fear challenge or adversity.

Run towards it. Not away from it.

Use it consciously. As a stepping stone.

To ascend. To soar.

To propel yourself forward.

To begin again. 

For strength is ultimately built from challenge, from difficulty, from overcoming.

You were born to thrive!

Watch my video for helpful strategies on how to thrive.

5 Ways to Embrace Change.

I love new beginnings. The start of a day. The beginning of a week. A brand new month. A whole new season.

All are perfect times to begin anew.

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“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

Need help embracing change but don’t know where to start?  In this  8 minute CBC-TV interview below, I share 5 stategies for embracing change.

What are your strategies for embracing change?

Visit my YouTube Channel for all my positive psychology videos.

Letting life flow.

Stressful Times.

The one word I hear repeatedly from students this time of year is drowning.

Drowning in bills. Drowning in midterms. Drowning in research.

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Not a pleasant thought. And definitely not energizing.

A sinking feeling that takes student motivation from 100 to 0 in an instant.

By thought alone.

Empowering Lessons.

How can we help students to feel more empowered in the midst of winter weather, too many midterms, and not enough time.

Transforming Stressors.

We meet students where they’re at. By embracing that stressful, drowning thought and transforming it into a peaceful, floating feeling. By helping students feel safe and supported. In and out of the classroom.

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Trusting the Flow.

We remind students of their resilience. We show them how far they’ve come. We encourage them to flow with the moment instead of fighting against the current. Then and only then can the focused learning begin.

Video from today's psychology class. 🌊

What helps you go with the flow?

The upside 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 the word alone. A habitual thought response that is often more dangerous than the stressor itself.

img_0360

Mindset is everything.

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

Change your thoughts. Change your response.

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

Stress can be good (or bad) for you.

Believe that stress is good for you and you live (longer). Alternatively, believe that stress is bad for you and you die (sooner).

Powerful words. Solid research to back her statements up.

Hope you enjoy the video!

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

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Rethinking Stress – Helpful Resources

  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?