Effects of Positive Thinking on Stress Levels
Stress - An Introduction
Stress is a silent killer since it triggers many ailments and diseases which in turn can be fatal. Some of the stress-related diseases are coronary artery diseases, blood pressure, cancer, depression and respiratory diseases, to name a few. The traditional way of handling stress was to combat the ailments more than combating the root cause, but with more and more understanding of Human mind and our response to the environment, there is growing acceptance of the extreme inverse proportion that a Positive Mindset has on Stress Levels. This article will look at the traditional and new way of handling stress.
The International Stress Management Association, U.K., defines Stress as follows:
“Stress manifests as a physical, psychological or social dysfunction resulting in individuals feeling unable to bridge the gap with the requirements or expectations placed upon them.”
Now, these expectations come from many sources and when they are continually applied to an individual, stress manifests. Some of the physical forms of stress are fatigue, muscle tension, dizziness, headache, and change in sex drives; while some of the psychological forms are anger, irritation, feeling low on energy, nervousness and wanting to run away from the event or circumstance.
Relation between Thoughts, Beliefs and Stress
Although the sources of stress were known and the way to treat the effects were understood, but stress as an ailment prevailed for a long time. This was basically because of the fact that science did not try to understand the root cause of stress. Try as we may, sources of stress will not change because everyone has to work, has to manage his or her house and of course, work in coordination with other individuals. In such a scenario, the only thing that can be changed is the individual’s own mindset and his or her perception of the environment. If this could be successfully dealt with then stress should disappear; at least theoretically.
Studies towards this goal of identifying the root cause led to some findings of the thoughts we think, the beliefs that become, and our own effectiveness in dealing with the environment in which we live. Beliefs are nothing but the manifestation of recurring thoughts over a period of time. If our thoughts and beliefs are negative then we will end up moving through life with a lot of friction with the environment and therefore, will live a stressful life. However, if the thoughts and beliefs are positive then an individual can deal with the environment more effectively, without giving in to stress.
Handling the "Effects" of Stress: A Vicious Cycle
When a person is constantly communicating with his or her environment having unfavorable sources, then there is a good chance that stress builds up. This scenario is depicted in Figure 1.
The effects of stress could be any of the health concerns which we discussed at the beginning of this article. The individual, thereafter, takes reactive measures to handle stress in the form of medication for the resulting ailment and exercise regimen, which is more or less thrust upon him or her. The outcome or the result is a short-term improvement in health. However, this outcome is not sustainable because neither is the individual inclined towards maintaining the new lifestyle, nor does he know new ways of handling the environment. This, therefore, leads to the individual going back to the old ways and the cycle repeats again. The major problem here is that we are trying to deal with the effects of Stress and not the root cause of Stress. One other notable part of this individual is that the trigger progression goes absolutely unchecked. There is nothing about the individual which attempts to stonewall the progression. Statistically speaking, a large portion of the population, to the extent of 65 – 70%, fall in this category.
Handling the "Root Cause" of Stress: A positive lifestyle
In Figure 2, the person proactively chooses to stay positive and therefore, takes proactive measures to stay in that state. The resulting outcome is a long-term healthy lifestyle. In such a circumstance, an individual looks at positives in an environment and mostly discounts or discards negative influences. This leads to a state wherein the person has a virtual personal shield to guard against negative influences. And since the person has handled the root cause of stress, which is a negative mindset, the effects of stress cease to exist. Hence, this is one of the effective ways of dealing with stress. Another noticeable fact is that the so-called ‘personal positive shield’ of the person stymies the progression of the negative influences of the environment.
Positive Mindset - A new Lifestyle
We had looked at two types of individuals - one, trying to deal with the effects of stress and the other, dealing with the root cause of stress. Those dealing with the effects tend to be stuck and remain victims of stress; sometimes forever. But can these individuals change too? The answer is 'yes' and Figure 3 depicts this change.
This depiction shows the normal mode of dealing with effects of stress but here too we can modify or change the lifestyle of the person to be more positive and happy. While the reactive measures are going on, the person needs to make a conscious call to change his or her lifestyle. Once such a decision is made, the person needs to follow up and stay committed to achieving the new lifestyle, as discussed under Figure 2. How do we achieve a positive frame of mind? By following the Proactive Measures, again, as shown in Figure 3.
How to achieve a Positive Frame of Mind – Proactive Measures
The efforts to bring about a change would be a difficult one at the beginning, nonetheless, worth making an attempt. It is said that a habit is formed by repeatedly doing something for 21 days. So, a practitioner should do the following things for at least 21 days to form a habit.
Note: It is essential that the practitioner makes up his mind to do this and decides himself. If not then this would be another prescribed dose which the practitioner may or may not follow. Rest assured, if the practitioner does adopt these habits, there will be a visible change in his/her lifestyle.
Affirmations: Affirmations are one of the most effective ways of changing the mindset and hence the person. This is, in fact, the reason for what we are right now. The affirmations when used continuously, become a part of our inner self-talk. Some examples of our inner self – talk like “I am not good at Maths” (negative), “I am good at Soccer" (positive), “I cannot do that job” (negative), are all affirmations that we picked up from the environment. The good thing is that we can change the inner self-talk by positively speaking about ourselves. Some examples of affirmations are:
1. I am continuously staying positive and happy. This is such a good feeling
2. I believe in positive thinking, it really yields results
3. I have a great body and it only improves day by day
4. I am continuously improving in keeping my commitments
5. Any situation can be handled and turned around positively
Meditation: Meditation is one way of ensuring that we put our mind to rest and give the body a little time to recuperate. This is also a way of getting in touch with our inner-self and our higher consciousness. People meditating are able to counter their daily challenges more effectively without giving into emotional negativities and therefore, stress.
Yoga and Breathing Exercise: There are many studies which would tell us, why breathing effectively ensures proper flow of oxygen to all parts of our body and thereby ensures the well-being of each body part; of course, this, in turn, ensures our own well-being. Under a stressful situation, if we observe, we will find that our breath is shallow and our muscles are tense. These are in effect causing the ailments that we had discussed earlier. So to undo the effects, just do the opposite and that is, breathe deeply and relax your muscles. That is what Yoga teaches us and hence useful for dealing with stress.
Weight and Stamina Exercise: Health experts around the world, would tell us as to why weight and stamina exercises done in the right proportion, are good for our health. Not only that but also the fact that exercise leads to the release of some healthy enzymes in our body, which ensures that we stay healthy even after the actual physical exercise is over. This, therefore, ensures that we stay healthy as we move through the day, without giving into Stress.
These are some of the ways of changing our lifestyle by changing our way of thinking. Each of the four points mentioned above is a topic in themselves. The general idea though is to remember that when we talk of stress, we ensure that we deal with the root cause and not just the symptoms or effects. Stress can not only be managed but also eliminated!