We all know the feeling when we're faced with a 'fight or flight' situation - the adrenaline kicks in and our heart rate inevitably begins to rise. In small doses, this response can be beneficial for our wellbeing, but putting continuous strain on our heart in this way can be damaging in the long-term. In fact, stress is reportedly an underlying factor in cardiovascular conditions, like strokes, and has even been found to cause a specific kind of heart attack - takotsubo cardiomyopathy - which is triggered by sudden emotional stress.
With all of these symptoms in mind, it's no wonder our go-to solutions for stress tend to centre on relaxation or distraction tactics like meditation, mindfulness and exercise. Yet research shows that actually engaging with feelings of stress, rather than trying to temporarily eradicate them, could be more beneficial for our health in the long-term. Here's how:
Give stress inoculation a shot
Drawing inspiration from the theory behind vaccinations, stress inoculation encourages us to purposefully expose ourselves to small and controlled doses of stress. By routinely pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone, we become more resilient to stress, so when we're faced with challenging situations, we're able to respond in a more measured way.
Try reframing the situation
Putting a positive spin on stressful moments can help us learn to thrive when the pressure's on. For example, by starting to approach these moments as challenges to overcome rather than overwhelming impossibilities, we're more easily able to reframe feelings of anxiety as excitement, or concerns about failure as an opportunity to learn.
Be a proactive relaxer
Redirecting your energy into learning new skills has been proven to be an effective way to reduce stress levels at work - even more so than more traditional relaxation techniques. This is because once we leave the relaxation bubble and realise the stressful situation hasn't changed, it can leave us feeling even more frustrated than we were before. Instead, doing things like reading articles which are indirectly linked to your line of work or spending time strengthening interpersonal relationships with different colleagues can help to "buffer" stressful factors and combat negative emotions.