The Three Steps to ReThink StressJune 11 , 2013

Over the last couple months I’ve been sharing some content from the ReThink Stress (RTS) training program [The Power of Mindset, Eustress – the ‘Good Stress’ and Distress].  This is a program I’m helping to create with Shawn Achor and Alia Crum, based on research from Yale that has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, Forbes and the Harvard Business Review. 

The key to re-thinking stress is to recognize that stress is not necessarily a bad or debilitating thing, but can be used to your advantage (a.k.a. a “stress-is-enhancing” mindset).  This week, I’ll be sharing the three basic steps to creating a stress-is-enhancing mindset. 

Step 1- Acknowledge your stress. 

This may seem obvious but you need to know you’re stressed before you can use it to your advantage.  This can be difficult since we’ve trained our brains to avoid stress, believing that it’s bad for us.  And many of us have had so much stress for so long that we don’t even notice it anymore.  We just call it “normal life.”

Here’s why recognizing your stress is important.  When you are unconsciously stressed, you process that stress in the limbic centers of your brain which drive you into a reactive, un-thinking fight-or-flight mode.  By recognizing and acknowledging your stress, on the other hand, your brain shifts where it processes that stress to the prefrontal cortex.  This is the rational, thinking part of your brain, which allows you to pause, evaluate your options and consciously choose how you respond  to the stress.

Step 2 – Welcome your stress

The second step is to welcome the stress that you have.  You may be asking, “Why would I ever welcome stress into my life?”  There are two reasons:

(1) It increases the energy you have to overcome the challenge that is causing the stress in the first place.  Working to avoid or fight stress drains your energy while welcoming that stress can increase your energy and allow you to focus on tackling that new challenge.

(2) Embedded within every stress is something that’s meaningful or important to you. For example, if I were to tell you that a child on the other side of the country is failing English, it unlikely to affect your stress levels.  But if I tell you YOUR child is failing English, suddenly your stress levels rise because now you have a purpose or goal embedded within that information.   Behind every stress you feel there is something important to you. The key is to find it.

STEP 3 – Utilize your stress

We know from the second step that our stress is inherently connected to the things that matter most to us.  But it is paradoxical – and quite frustrating really – that our typical reactions to stress often take us away from our goals.

When we shift to a stress-is-enhancing mindset, our fundamental motivation changes.  Rather than using our time, money and energy trying to get rid of stress, we begin to UTILIZE our resources towards meeting the demands underlying the stress.

ReThink Stress Training

In the full ReThink Stress training program, multimedia presentations go into much greater detail on each of the three steps and suggest several ways to sustainably shift your perspective to a stress-is-enhancing mindset.  The ReThink Stress program takes you through simple exercises that allow you recognize your stress responses, find the meaning behind your stress and apply the three steps in your own life — both routinely and in your most stress-filled times.

I’ve been having a lot of fun creating this program with researchers Shawn Achor and Alia Crum, and I’m excited that we’re doing a limited launch of the program in the next few weeks.  If you are interested in getting early access to the full ReThink Stress program (at a discount), contact me and I’ll try to get you into this limited beta launch.  Feedback from this initial roll out will allow us to further optimize the program before the formal launch in the fall.  And if you want to stay close to the launch information, go to the official ReThink Stress program website and sign up for the email list at the bottom of the page.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

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