Stress can come from directly from the situations in which we find ourselves, but it can also come from how we view those situations. Sometimes stress can come from how we look at things that don’t even directly affect us. As a result, learning to think positively can help reduce unnecessary stress in our lives. But, is it really that simple?
Ask “What Went Right?” As Well As “What Went Wrong?”
A 2011 study conducted at the University of Minnesota and published in The Acadamy of Management Journal found that just as positive events reduce stress, positive reflection can also reduce stress. The study recommended that emphasis not only be placed on avoiding negative events but also in encouraging positive events. It also suggests that positive reflection could reduce stress more than negative reflection.
In the current business culture, something going well is what is expected and most reflection occurs when something goes wrong. While this does help to identify areas of potential improvement, we could probably all stand to devote a little more time to understand why things worked. Not only would positive reflection help to improve services, even when they are already working, it would also lead to less stressful work environments.
Move On From Negative Experiences With Positive Ones
Stress is often caused by dwelling on things that have already come to pass. As a result, a significant amount of stress can be avoided by simply not thinking about things that have already happened, especially if they didn’t go well. But, is it enough to just forget?
According to a 2010 study published in the journal Cognition and Emotion, people have an easier time moving on from negative experiences if they have a positive experience that they can use to help replace the negative experience in their minds.
A further 2009 study published in the journal Behavior Research and Therapy found that while distraction is more mentally beneficial than a rumination on a negative experience, it is not as beneficial as more positive interventions. Similarly, other studies have found that while distraction causes some stress relief, the effects do not last long after the distraction ends.
Distraction can be a tempting method to move on from stress but that introduces the white bear effect. This principle suggests that if we are told not to think of a white bear, that is exactly what we are going to think of. Telling ourselves not to think of the white bear necessarily brings the white bear back to the front of our minds.
Accept Necessary Stresses
It’s important to realize that while studies have found that things, like ignoring our stresses or thinking positively, can help us to avoid stress, these methods should only be used when you are stressing over something that isn’t important like regretting having said the wrong thing to the cashier at the supermarket, or something that has already happened and that we cannot change, like making a mistake on a form at work last week or missing a question on a test. It’s not a good idea to try to ignore or avoid the stress that comes from the need to make decisions or respond to an unforeseen event at home or work. That kind of stress needs to be dealt with and managed but will never simply go away.
Stress is a natural and healthy part of life and whenever a stressful situation occurs in which we still have time to make the right decision or solve a problem you should meet that opportunity head-on rather than trying to ignore your problems or find your happy place.
The tools discussed in this article are meant to be used to address stress when a situation occurs. No meaningful method will remove stress from your life.