We all experience stress differently — but we can all agree on the goal of wanting to reduce or prevent it as much as possible. While there are several ways to relieve the effects of stress, there is a method of using it to your advantage. Rather than fearing stress, it could be beneficial to learn how to work with it, not against it. Speaking with Dr. Alison Darcy, a clinical psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, helped me understand how you can actually turn stress into something positive.
"One of the biggest tips I think for dealing with stress and anxiety is realise and understand how that anxiety is helping you first and foremost — because the objective is not to eliminate any emotion," Dr. Darcy said. "You can't selectively eliminate, unfortunately. It's to dial it down to a healthy level."
Dr. Darcy explained how we tend to judge our emotions in a binary way, being good or bad. But in reality, a certain amount of stress and anxiety is reasonably healthy and positive. It helps us keep our responsibilities in order and reveals a part of who we are in a sense.
"Understand how that anxiety is helping you, because the objective is not to eliminate any emotion . . . It's to dial it down to a healthy level."
"The first thing that I do as a clinician is to help people see why they should be proud in a way," she said. "Either the emotion is serving purpose or it says something really valuable about them as people. Sometimes, people feel depressed and it's sort of an integrity thing; they're depressed with the state of the world or something. Well, doesn't that say something beautiful about you as a sensitive human being that is socially conscious? Understanding what's adaptive about your emotion is the key, I think, to then have the ability to turn it down to a healthy level."
Whether you use stress as motivation or as a reminder of what you need to take care of, it all begins with acknowledging how the particular emotion is helping you. Befriend it instead of allowing yourself to become overwhelmed by it.
In terms of stress reduction, Dr. Darcy shared several proven ways to keep it under control, including physical exercise every day, breathing exercises to help slow your heart rate, and making behavioural changes like getting enough sleep.
"Meditation has shown to be useful from an overall management point of view," she said. "Honestly, sleeping correctly, exercising regularly, and if you could do some kind of yoga or meditation — ideal."
Whatever form you choose, the key is daily practice. So keep calm, carry on, and don't let stress rule you!