Can you think yourself happy?
Stress is an everyday part of life for most of us. But does it really need to be? Learn how your brain responds to stress and some powerful tips to change it.
Nature vs Nurture
The nervous system which you were born with isn’t necessarily the one that you eventually learn to live with though. This is where the concept of “neuroplasticity” comes into play.
If you were born with a brain and nervous system that was on constant red alert, giving you an exaggerated stress response, you can learn to rewire them so that they’re no longer on the look out for threats. You can of course do the opposite too. Even if you were born with a normal stress response, life events and situations can make you much more sensitive. An extreme example of this is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which occurs in some people after experiencing situations such as war or abuse which then locks the stress response in overdrive.
But it doesn’t have to be extreme experiences that rewire our brain and nervous system and put us on constant red alert. Even minor irritations can do it too. But, and this is the most important part to know, it’s not the situation that affects us: it’s our response to it.
As Shakespeare said:
“Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so”
Life is just a point of view. I might see the traffic as infuriating but you might see it as an opportunity to listen to your favourite radio show. The neighbour’s dog barking might activate my flight or fight response, but you might like knowing that there are people nearby and it helps to relax you.
“We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.”
If we’re angry, anxious, sad or irritated then we tend to see the world around us as an angry, anxious, sad or irritating place. If we’re calm, happy, positive or relaxed then that is what we see in the world. In other words:
we see what we look for and what we look for is based on how we are.
If you are looking for things which make you feel stressed, then you will find them. If you are looking for things which make you feel positive, then you will find those instead. There are plenty of both situations out there, and it’s entirely up to you which ones capture your attention.
This doesn’t mean to say that you should gloss over or ignore the sad and bad in your world, but learning to calm your stress response by also looking for the happy and positive, means that you will actually deal better with stressful situations. Remember that you always need to have a balance between fight or flight and rest or digest. For many of us, the flight or flight comes naturally and it’s the rest and digest that we need to work on.
Daily tips to re-frame your stress response:
1) Meditate: this changes the way that your brain perceives stress. Regular meditators use a different and less reactive part of their brain when dealing with potentially stressful situations.
2) Start your day with positive intent: think of something that you have to look forward to and be grateful for it.
3) Practice gratitude: tell the people around you that you are grateful that they are there. It might be your family or the person who helps you in a shop. Every day, write down the three things for which you are most grateful.
4) Spread the love: making other people feel good makes us feel good. Make someone laugh, smile or give them a compliment.
5) See the beauty: even when we’re busy, stressed, angry or sad, there is much beauty and cause for joy around us. You just need to remember to look for it.
6) Avoid the negative: give yourself a break from watching the news or reading sad books. Only watch positive shows, listen to happy music or read uplifting books.
7) Don’t complain: and avoid other people that do. They sap the energy and joy out of you.