Learn to Use Stress As Fuel During Difficult Experiences By Embracing a More Positive Outlook

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Image by: Moyan Brenn
By Tallulah Ray

According to an article written by Cynthia M. Thaik, M.D. published in Psychology Today, “Stress is part of a biological state of arousal of our sympathetic nervous system called the flight-or-fight response. In evolutionary terms, stress plays an essential role in our survival.”

If it weren’t for the stress that we feel when our body recognizes danger, we would be goners – eaten up by wild animals before we could even emerge from our caves millions of years ago. So how is it that we now view stress with a negative connotation? When someone says that she’s “feeling stressed”. We automatically assume that’s a bad thing.

It all has to do with our perception and how we choose to interpret our behaviors and the behaviors of others. While stress can lead to negative things (loss of sleep, headaches, changes in our complexion, etc.), it can also lead to positive things (motivation to do better, a realization of our situation, etc.).

Of course, it also has to do with the amount of stress that we are having. If you have stress for a short period of time (a project that is due in a week), you are more likely to see those positive side effects. If your stress lasts for too long, you begin to see the negative side effects.

Statistically speaking, our stress levels decline as we age and our happiness levels increase with age as well. Coincidence? Probably not. However, does that mean that we have to wait until we’re in our sixties to be truly happy? Nope, not at all.

So how can you relieve stress in the long run? How can you shorten the amount of time that you are feeling stressed? How can you raise your happiness index while you’re in your thirties? Or your twenties? There are many different ways to relieve stress and increase your happiness and their effectiveness has to do with your reaction to it. However, one tried and true method that is scientifically proven, is to view the world in a more positive light.

THE UPSIDE TO THINKING POSITIVE

Thinking positive is easier said than done, especially these days with the economy trying to regain its traction and with everyone trying to find their rightful places in the world. However, “80% of people are classified as optimistic” according to Suzanne C. Segerstrom.

POSITIVE ATTITUDE AS A CHOICE

Thinking positive is a choice that you make when you look at a situation. When you are faced with a glass, you can either choose to see that it is half full or half empty. Or you can choose to see both, which requires a lot of objectivity and honesty.

Optimism and thinking positively can be innate. You can naturally see that the glass is half full. However, it can also be learned. There are some simple things that you can do in order to condition your mind and body to react in positive ways (see the glass half full) whenever you are faced with a problem or just in general.

Smile. The simple act of smiling can change your perception a few different ways. When you smile, you are sending a message to your brain that connects that action with a pleasant memory. Your brain knows that when you smile, you’re feeling good. So while it may be a fake smile in the beginning, it could just as easily turn into a sincere one soon enough.

Also, when you smile at someone, they normally smile back and that triggers a positive environment, which can add to your good vibes. When you feel good vibes, your body begins to feel better.

Be kind. Responding kindly to the situations that you are faced with is a great way to stay calm and react in a positive way.

Be flexible. Being truly flexible allows you to allow room for other scenarios. When you are completely set in your ways, you are more likely to be unhappy and think negative thoughts when things don’t go your way. As I’m sure most of you have noticed, things won’t always end up the way you expect in life.

Keep a “Happy Thoughts” Jar. Consider keeping a mason jar (or a whimsical cookie jar) in your office or bedroom. When something good happens to you, write a quick note about it and place that note in the jar. When you’re having a bad day, open it up and recollect the times when you were positive.

LOOK AT THE NEGATIVITY IN YOUR LIFE

An important part of growing up is learning how to effectively deal with pain. Pain and all the unpleasantness that comes with it will help you learn how to be stronger. They may leave emotional (and sometimes physical) scars but those scars are the symbols of your strength and courage. These are the things that you have to remember when you doubt yourself and when you think that the situation is hopeless.

You must also look at the people in your life who like to spread negativity. At first you may make excuses for these people but if you look within yourself, you know exactly who these people are. They may be family. They may be friends. They may even be people that you look up to. Unfortunately, these people are the type of people that you may need to avoid.

You can smile when they try to bring you down. You can combat their negative thoughts with positive ones. However, there may be a time where you won’t be able to take it anymore. In those cases, you may either snap or you may break down. Don’t let that happen.

Confront them first. Tell these people that you are trying to turn your life around and you’re trying to be a more positive person. Those thoughts that they like to put in your head are not helpful and may even be hurting you.

Distance yourself, if confronting them doesn’t work. This may be difficult emotionally and/or physically. Perhaps you have to work beside this person and your boss won’t let you move or transfer. In these situations, you’re going to have to remember these things:

You don’t have to talk to them, but you don’t have to be rude either. Just because you’re not going to engage this person in conversation, doesn’t mean you can’t be pleasant toward him or her.

Don’t let their negativity turn you into someone that you’re not. Keep being yourself and keep telling yourself to maintain your focus and enthusiasm for life.

Don’t take things too personally. People’s actions are a reflection of their personality. What they do isn’t because of you; it is because of them and who they are.

Smile and nod, then go to your happy place. Focus on work and on the positive things that are getting you through your work day.

SHARING YOUR POSITIVITY

Another way to stay positive is to share your optimism with other people. You can’t make people see things the way that you do but you can do some of these things in order to shed some light on some negative thoughts that other people may have. And remember, when you do nice things for other people, they want to do nice things for you too.

Show your gratitude. Showing your gratitude has been a proven way to make yourself feel happier. When we say “thank you” and when we show our appreciation, we are internally rewarded which aids in the rising of our happiness meter.

Paying it forward is the best part of being positive. You get to do something nice for someone (you may even make her day) and you get to do something that makes you feel good about yourself. It’s really a win-win.

CALCULATING HAPPINESS

So how do you know if you’re truly happy? Happiness is an abstract noun which means that it can be hard to pinpoint and calculate. You may be happy and I may be happy but we won’t be the same level of happy.

Apparently, it can be easier to calculate than we think, or at least Columbia University’s Earth Institute thought so when it released the U.N.-sponsored “World Happiness Report”. This report (that states that the US is the world’s 17th most happy country), used three measures of happiness to rank each country: “life satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 10, positive emotional state the prior day, and negative emotional state the prior day.”

So on a scale of Denmark (one of the world’s happiest countries) to Syria (which was in the bottom ten), how happy and optimistic are you?

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