Can Stress Make You Stronger?

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!

Instead of trying to avoid stress in our lives, perhaps we should embrace it. We need to gain a sense of mastery over life and the stresses that go with being alive. We all must choose at some point to become the hero of our own life story or the victim. To embrace the stress in our lives and become the warrior instead of the worrier. Recent research is showing that believing that stress is harmful to your health may actually be harmful to your health. and that the old adage that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” might actually be true.

One of the inspiring lectures for the new year sent out by the Continuing Education department at Oxford was a talk by Kelly McGonigal on “How to Make Stress Your Friend” She outlines some very fascinating research in psychology that shows how our beliefs about stress effect whether the stress in our lives is making us sick or making us stronger. Basically, warriors live longer than worriers and scientists have a pretty good idea why.

Watch the Video

The Road to Mastery

Dr. Robert Butler, former head of The National Institute of Aging, said that “personal power” (having control over one’s life) is one of the least talked about factors in living a long happy life. The concept of self-perception or self-efficacy has been reported as a mediating factor in all healthy lifestyle choices. Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy purports that a person’s confidence in his or her capabilities and knowledge will increase or decrease the likelihood of engaging in a particular activity and the probability of successful performance of any given task is related to the degree of confidence or self-efficacy of the individual.

Life is change, and how we cope with change determines if we thrive on it or if we are overcome by it. As we age, change quickly accelerates. Friends pass away, children grow up, once easy tasks become increasingly difficult. Yet when we look around at the many people that experience these same changes, some people seem to thrive on those changes while others seem to buried by them. Dr. Susan Kobasa, and her colleagues found that people involved in a great deal of change and stress in their lives can still thrive and not suffer physical ailments if they possess three characteristics: (1) a commitment, a sense of being involved in life as opposed to being alienated by it; (2) a sense of control over the changes in their lives (the opposite of helplessness); and (3) a sense of challenge – viewing change as a challenge instead of as a problem. She found in her studies that people’ who possess those three qualities commitment, control and challenge – tend to do much better when faced with the changes that occur as people get older. Unfortunately, there are many aspects of the aging process and many social aspects of aging in our society that contribute to feelings of victimization and helplessness.

For More on Stress and Health See More Articles in the Barefoot doctor’s Journal

Don’t be the victim of your own life story

The essence of the feelings of being a victim in life is basically one of not having control over the world that we live in. Feelings of being out of control of one’s life begin with the very thoughts that we think to ourselves moment by moment all day long. In experiments using cognitive therapy, changing negative thinking patterns were effective in relieving two-thirds of the depression experienced by older adults by eliminating mindless ruminate.ions about past regrets and future fears, and replacing those thoughts with strong positive thinking. One of the most important discoveries in psychology in the last 30 years is the discovery that the ego has a natural tendency to use internal dialogue (that little voice inside our heads that talks to us all day long) to think about the nearest problem. In an undisciplined, untrained mind, the mind and the ego itself will naturally gravitate toward the nearest problem. Unless people learn to deliberately think about those things that they wish to think about, that they enjoy thinking about, the mind itself will naturally gravitate toward an endless series of one damn thing after another. Its job in survival is to focus on whatever the nearest problem is so that the brain will
normally try to focus on problems rather than solutions. To overcome feelings of being a victim, people need to learn to deliberately think about those things that they enjoy thinking about, think about those constructive things that can be used to change the problem at hand.

In the face of all the changes taking place in the world today, how do we maintain feelings of control over our lives instead of feeling like a victim? A number of things can be done.

The Value of Helping Others

It helps to be around other people (attending classes, taking advantage of volunteer opportunities, joining self-help groups) enable us to see that other people have those same problems and have found ways to cope with, overcome and gain control over those problems instead of becoming a victim. Church groups or enjoying family activities can help. Even right down to access to professional counseling becomes extremely important. The worst thing that someone can do is sit around their home all day long staring at the walls waiting for help to come. The only people who come to visit you in your home all by yourself like that are burglars. In order to make new friends and see how other people seize control of their lives, you need to be with other people. Control over your life is not something other people give to you. Basically, it comes down to a question of choice. People have the ability to choose whether they are going to look at the positive side of things or the negative side of things. An old Chinese proverb states that if you’re “standing on the top of a mountain, you can stand on the dark side where the sun doesn’t shine or you can cross over the ridge a few steps to the sunny side of the mountain where the sun shines. By taking those few steps and altering your perspective, you alter your destiny.” This is holding to be true in that you can find many people with severe problems and limitations who overcome those problems and limitations and continue to make a meaningful contribution to the world around them. By doing so, they do themselves a favor by boosting their own immune systems by maintaining a positive attitude of control over their lives rather than a
negative attitude. It takes just as much energy to sit around being depressed all the time as it does to have a good, strong positive attitude.As Dale Carnegie said, “ Any damn fool can sit back, criticize, condemn and complain, and most fools do.”

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