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How stress management changed my life

Stress is an unavoidable part of life and, thanks to the pandemic, it’s played a bigger role in our lives for the past year. DAVE WESTMAN of Flat Cat Marketing looks at a technique for coping with stress and living a healthier life, using neuroscience.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with stress. My wife thinks I love it and I think I hate it. Probably, neither of us are right. But about a year ago, I forged a new relationship with my tormentor (stress, that is) and we now get along just fine (again, I’m talking about myself and stress, – not the health of our marriage).

The turning point was an insight gained from the Neuroscience of Leadership Advanced Diploma I was studying, through NeuroCapability. It centred around stress mindset and its impact on physical and emotional wellbeing. To simplify, the stress response I was so accustomed to feeling – rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, flush of adrenaline and that ulcer-bleeding-in-the-stomach feeling – are designed to prime us for action. For decades we were told stress would kill us. And it can have negative impacts on our health – I’ll write about allostatic load in another blog. But some amazing research changed the way we see stress.

They studied the responses of nearly 30,000 people on how much stress they experienced in the past year and if they thought stress was harmful to their health. Then they “checked the death notices” eight years later to see who died.

Not surprisingly, the study found people with a lot of stress in their life had a 43% increased risk of dying. BUT, only if they also believed stress was harmful. Those who didn’t believe stress was harmful were actually at the lowest risk of dying, even lower than those who didn’t have much stress in their life at all.

There’s a great TEDTalk by Kelly McGonigal on the topic, referencing exactly that research and if your default view has you believing stress is harmful, I highly recommend watching it.

But how does knowing that helps manage stress?

The key to putting this knowledge to practical use is creating an implementation intention.
Firstly, I know I am most productive and most creative when under the most stress. Regardless of health impact, more stress means more effectiveness.

Secondly, I was still in my 20s when I first had bleeding stomach ulcers and I’ve had more than my share of highly stressful jobs and lifestyles.

So my implementation intention was simply this: When I get that bleeding-stomach-ulcer feeling, I will say (out loud) “Saddle up, baby! How can I use this stress?”

At the next opportunity, I implemented the intention. And that stress feeling disappeared within three seconds. That wasn’t the outcome I expected and I actually felt a little ripped off. I was all set to get productive.

For the past year, I have not felt stressed for more than three seconds at a time. I don’t know if I will live longer as a result, but I certainly live a lot healthier.

NOTE: Neuroscience can help you access a number of brain hacks to self-regulate emotions, manage stress, and avoid overwhelm. NeuroCapability offers a great program call Stress Mastery, which can boost team performance and productivity while building healthier and happier lives for your teams.

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