Tolerating Unavoidable Stress
Let’s face it, there’s a lot that can stress us out these days. Whether it’s the news or your professional or personal life, stress is unavoidable.
So we need to be able to tolerate a certain amount of stress. The good news is if we need more stress tolerance, we can build it.
Self-care is an essential part of withstanding stress, including sleep, diet, exercise and social-emotional support.
But here’s something that may be even more do-able: shifting our focus.
Often when we’re stressed, we’re focusing on ourselves and how we are affected by a situation.
But if we can shift that to focus on our “highest values,” we can improve our feelings of confidence and decrease our negativity towards others.
In a recent study, participants were told about situations that typically cause people to feel upset or hostile towards others. Then they were asked to describe how their life goals reflected their highest values.
Some participants then underwent an EEG, while others self-reported their feelings.
The results showed that focusing on selfless values:
(1) increased patterns of brain activity related to power and enthusiasm;
(2) improved feelings of personal power; and
(3) reduced harsh judgments towards disliked people and world views.
So if we can step outside of ourselves and focus on making a difference for others, we are going to feel more powerful and less negative overall.
As the study’s lead author Ian McGregor said, “Focusing on a greater good beyond themselves had the paradoxical effect of making participants’ psychologically stronger and more reasonable.”
Connections Make Us Stronger and Healthier
What makes us human also helps us survive: our connections with and care for each other.
So it makes sense that this would support us during times of stress.
A 2013 study found that having a purpose in life was predictive of better emotional recovery from negative stimuli.
Another recent study suggests that focusing on purpose and a sense of meaning can reduce the risk of dementia.
So focusing on our values, purpose and meaning – which generally relate us to others or the larger world – are good for your stress resilience, emotional health and brain health.
What Are Your Selfless Values?
Because our values are so important, they are part of my Pathways to Change framework. I also explore them with clients in 1-1 coaching.
What really matters to you? And what difference do you want to make?
If you’d like some help exploring, schedule a free consult!
Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash