Everyone has experienced stress at home or at work. But without knowing how to handle it, it can be a lethal scourge.
Worst of all, stress hinders us from reaching our potential. The more you worry about a presentation, the more nervous you become. When you finally walk onto the stage, your knees start to quiver, your palms get sweaty and you can’t help but stutter on your words.
To help you overcome the negative influence of stress, I’d like to share with you some scientifically proven ways. When you know how to handle your stress, you can concentrate on getting the most out of your brain.
Below is what I’ll cover in this article to help you get back to your creative, intelligent and high-performing self.
- Why can stress be life-threatening?
- How to rewire your brain and let go of fear?
- How to get rid of the thoughts that provoke stress?
- How to make good decisions to deal with stressful situations?
- How to develop a peaceful mindset with practice?
- How to deal with the feeling of shame and let go of your ideal self?
- How do long and harmonious relationships benefit your health?
- How to end your stress with strong beliefs?
- Final thoughts
Why Can Stress Be Life-Threatening?
Stress is everywhere in the modern world. Most of us consider it to be normal and harmless without realising that it can be dangerous to our health.
When we feel stressed, our brain releases toxic hormones that damage our higher brain functions and thus hamper our mental performance.
Our higher brain, or the prefrontal cortex, is where we derive our intelligence.
The stress hormones disable the function of prefrontal cortex, making you predisposed to making poor decisions or mental missteps.
Worse still, it severs the connections between your brain cells and shrink your brain’s neural networks, which are necessary for learning and creativity.
In fact, not only does it obstruct your mental performance, it is also harmful to your physical health. Research found that stress hormones weaken your immune system as well as your heart.
That’s why there is a plethora of illnesses related to stress, including strokes, cancer and diabetes, to name but a few.
How to Rewire Your Brain and Let Go of Fear
When it comes to relieve stress, it’s all about your attitude.
Thanks to the brain’s neuroplasticity, we can rewire our brains through the right attitude alteration.
Our brains have the ability to reorganize itself, creating new neural pathways and expanding the neural networks. We can create new pathways by changing the way we think and view our thoughts.
When you stop believing your negative thoughts, you’ll experience peace and tranquility.
For example, when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, you might feel angry and stressful, blaming other drivers and punching your steering wheel.
But you can actually choose to be calm by thinking of the traffic congestion as extra time for you to listen to your favorite songs or plan your future.
In fact, it can also help you let go of fear. From an evolutionary perspective, stress is just an expression of fear because our ancestors had to stay alert and avoid being swallowed by predators.
But today’s world is much safer and most of our fears no longer reflect the reality. So we must tell ourselves that the vast majority of our fears won’t come true.
How to Get Rid of the Thoughts That Provoke Stress?
We tend to blame our negative feelings on our circumstances or environment.
But once we become more aware of our stress, we will realise that we have created most of it on our own.
In a study at Cornell University, subjects were told to write down their worries for two weeks and then track which came true. They found that around 85 percent of their worries never ended up happening.
Of the 15 percent that did actually happen, the consequence wasn’t that serious. As a matter of fact, 79 percent of the time things went better than expected.
In short, the study shows that around 97 percent of our worries are either exaggerated or non-existent.
After re-evaluating your worries, you should think about how to manage them.
Whenever you have stress-provoking thoughts, try to observe them impartially; be aware that they are in your head, but not in reality.
For example, imagine you’re the CEO of a company that just lost an important client for a mistake.
You grew so anxious that you no longer take any action to avoid mistakes, which only exacerbates the situation.
But if you realise that you’re capable of dealing with risks as a CEO, you will feel much easier to come up with a good plan to save the day.
How to Make Good Decisions to Deal with Stressful Situations?
Almost all of us have experiences with stressful situations, either at home or at work. So how can we make the right decisions to overcome the difficulties?
For example, if you lost your job because of the pandemic or your partner deceived you, what then?
Most of the time, you’ll have three choices:
- Change it – Find out a possible solution and put it to use
- Leave it – Sometimes you just have to walk away and let it be
- Accept it – Sometimes when there is nothing to be done, it might be better to accept the situation as it is without any complaints or judgment
Take the example of the wife who agonised over her husband’s neglectful behaviour. She wanted to spend more time with her husband after coming home from work.
But when her husband walks in the door, he just sits on the couch and watches the basketball game.
She could either try to change her husband by forbidding him to watch TV. She could also leave him and file divorce.
Or she could just accept her husband as he is and join him on the couch to learn something about basketball.
Acceptance requires a strong determination which makes it the hardest choice.
However, in such situations, when you can’t completely control and feel powerless, remember you can still change your attitude.
How to Develop a Peaceful Mindset with Practice?
You can’t develop a peaceful mindset without any practice. There are some exercises to help you.
First, you can begin your day with peace and quiet instead of rushing out the door. That way, you can have the calm mindset necessary to manage the day’s challenges.
You can wake up ten minutes earlier and find a quiet place to do mindfulness. Just close your eyes and listen to your breathing. Think about the things you’re grateful for, such as the people who love you and the opportunities you have.
This practice can minimize your stress and help you cope with the day’s challenges.
Another strategy is to take a thirty-second “time-out” a few times throughout your day.
This can be done by disengaging yourself from whatever you’re doing and allowing yourself to relax, letting go of all your thoughts for a moment.
Take a slow and easy breath and relish in the feeling of peace.
The cardiologist Meyer Friedman used this exercise to help his patients who are predisposed to develop heart disease.
He asked them to take the longest line at the supermarket to take notice of the stressful and negative thoughts as a means of practising inner peace.
The longer you employ these tools to calm your thoughts, the more peaceful you will be.
How to Deal with Shame and Let Go of Your Ideal Self?
Have you ever made any big mistake in front of other people? Do you remember the heat in your cheeks as well as the shame and panic you felt?
The feeling of shame is another cause of stress.
Shame is the fear of being judged and rejected by those whose opinions matter to you, and as you might already know, fear means stress.
It causes you to give up control on who you are and subconsciously makes you the person who you think others want you to be.
Since most of us are forced to conform to others’ expectations quite often, that means we’ll experience constant anxiety and stress.
In order to curtail your shame, you’ll need to recognise it for what it really is.
Think about the last time you were overwhelmed by shameful thoughts. Why did you feel shame? Was there any valid reason for feeling ashamed, or were things not so bad?
Of course you made some mistakes, but everyone does once in a while.
In fact, most of the time, people don’t really care about your mistakes. So there’s no need to stress out.
How Do Long and Harmonious Relationships Benefit Your Health?
Relationships with other people can be a source of stress.
Hence long and harmonious relationships with other people are beneficial to your health.
This is because the love you experience in strong relationships reduces the amount of toxic hormones.
In fact, most studies show that people who have strong relationships are far more likely to live longer.
There was a Greek immigrant named Stamatis who left his home town in Greece to pursue the American Dream. A few decades later, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and given only nine months to live.
Feeling hopeless, he returned to his hometown and reconnected with his childhood friends and family. Rekindling these relationships had a major impact on his health, and he lived to 98 years old, according to his documentation.
On the contrary, loneliness is harmful to your health. Modern science suggests that it is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes per day when experiencing loneliness.
However, we sometimes ruin our chances to build deeper relationships by judging others which erect a barrier between ourselves and others.
By judging others, we unconsciously send thousands of signals, through facial expressions, body language, etc.
As social animals, we’re good at reading those signals, so others can immediately sense our judgments and stay away from us.
How to End Your Stress with Strong Beliefs?
Have you ever prayed that your dreams would come true?
In fact, science shows that the mere thought of a desirable outcome can set into motion the inner resources and actions that will help us fulfill our desires.
For example, you can increase your test score by convincing yourself that you’re well-prepared for the exam.
This is known as Placebo effect i.e. when a medication or medical procedure produces health benefits in a patient who believes that he has received useful medication which is de facto inert.
In a classic study, for example, severely injured soldiers were told that they were given powerful opiates which were actually placebos without any medical benefit. But the soldiers immediately felt relief from their physical pain.
Another study found that the power of mindset can even help you lose weight.
During a study on hotel cleaning staff, some of the workers were told that their work required heavy physical exercise. After only four shifts, the workers lost body fat without any diet or increase in activity.
So you can see that your beliefs are capable of ending your stress and improving your life.
Stress is harmful to your health, intelligence and performance. But you can deal with the negative impact of stress by practising the de-stress exercises and altering your attitudes.
Now, with a peaceful mindset, you can fully utilize your brain’s higher functions to further improve your performance.