5 Ways to Turn Bad Stress Good
by Catherine Morris | April 12, 2021, updated 6 months ago
We think of stress as the ultimate health boogeyman—and for good reason. The link between stress and disease is well-established, with hundreds of studies demonstrating its catastrophic impact on our mental and physical well being. According to researchers, it can even knock years off your life.
While putting your body under short-term physical stress (such as cold exposure, high-intensity training or intermittent fasting) forces it to adapt and can boost your metabolism and immune system, chronic stress is a killer.
So if you feel like you're caught in a daily grind, permanently under pressure, and strung out it might just be time for a stress intervention. The tips below can help you get that sort of insidious stress under control now, so you can be sure it won't damage your health down the road.
1. Re-Frame Your Stress
Identify when you're feeling stressed so you can stop it before it takes hold, and reframe what you're feeling. Take a deep breath, a long pause and ask yourself—What triggered the stress? What's your primary emotion right now? How can it be channelled into something else?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be a useful tool if you struggle with this type of stress regularly. It can help you examine your thought patterns and change them. A therapist can help you put your stress into context, and recognize when you're engaging in the most common pitfalls. such as—
- Catastrophizing – otherwise known as making mountains out of molehills, this is when you veer into exaggerated scenarios and imagine the worst possible outcome, regardless of how unrealistic or irrational.
- Black and white thinking – seeing things in very strict terms, without allowing for nuance or discussion.
- Overgeneralization – this is when we make assumptions based on incorrect, or incomplete, evidence. Examples include “I'll never get a job because that interview went badly” or “He hates me because he didn't say hello at the party”.
Our thoughts in stressful situations are often distorted—we're not thinking clearly when we feel frazzled. Knowing your patterns and learning to reframe those destructive thoughts can help you respond more calmly the next time something goes awry.
2. Distract Yourself
You can disrupt that cycle by distracting yourself and taking your focus away from the cause of your stress and into something more calming—like nature.
Getting outdoors is a proven stress-reliever—people who regularly spend time in green spaces report less anxiety and depression, and better mental health over the long-term.
So next time you feel your stress levels rising, take it outside. Allow yourself to be distracted by all mother nature has to offer by hiking, jogging, swimming or just strolling around the nearest park or forest.
Other good distractions to encourage a shift in your thinking include:
- Putting on your favourite piece of music
- Calling a friend
- Trying a breathing technique
- Giving guided meditation a go
3. Find Focus
Acute stress forces the brain into an adaptive response—sharpening your focus, keeping you alert, heightening concentration, and even improving memory and recall after learning something new.
Think about that time you aced a presentation, despite being terrified beforehand; or when you completed an important project minutes before it was due. That's your brain on stress, doing its thing under pressure.
Of course, workplace stress isn't always good for your health, because we don't all process or respond to stress the same way—some people thrive under pressure, while others shut down, so it's important to know your own triggers and boundaries, and take a break if you need it.
If you want to turn your stress into something positive, something that helps you overcome challenges, the trick is to keep your stress short-lived rather than chronic. Constant stress can lead to burnout and derail your health goals, so consider seeking help if it's become a regular part of your life.
4. Work it Out
Get in a session of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and you'll be stressing your body in all the right ways. This type of activity, which features short but intense bursts of exercise, eases tension and protects your heart health. It might even help you live longer, according to one study.
5. Get Creative
Like to write? Get a journal going. Writing can be extremely therapeutic, helping you express emotions safely, gain some perspective, find gratitude or simply empty out your busy head.
Love music? Try sound bathing for a calming and soothing experience or just get up off the sofa and dance. Dancing is one of the oldest movement therapies around and is proven to boost mental well-being and reduce stress.
Want more tips on managing your stress? Connect with a Which Doctor counsellor, therapist or life coach today for a private online consultation that can help you build emotional resilience and mental well-being.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.