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How does stress emerge and what can you do about it?

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Ben Steenstra Ben Steenstra
10-10-2019 6 mins read

Dr. Mike Evens is the founder and CEO of the Reframe Health Lab, and one day he and his family went to France. It was during the UEFA World Cup Footfall, and in many bars, the tension among the supporters was high when a game was played. Fascinated by human behavior, he found it just as amusing to watch the game as the people who watched it. In fact, he wondered whether the stress that a match brings to the supporters could affect their health.

Once back from vacation, he found a study that had been done in 1996 during the Dutch and French football match. This match was important for the supporters because it would be decided who would come in the semi-final round. What made this match extra exciting was that penalties would eventually determine the result.

How does stress emerge and what can you do about it?

Researchers have been able to show that the chance of a heart attack on that day among the Dutchmen had increased by 50%. It was remarkable that this was not the case for the French and also not for both the Dutch and the women. Stress, therefore, has an evident influence on our health.

The complexity of stress

When we talk about stress, our body and mind respond to it. Hard to suppress physical symptoms like: "The body and mind react to stress:

  • Your blood pressure rises
  • Your heart rate goes up
  • Your hormone regulation gets disrupted
  • Your immune system is getting weaker

Mentally, stress also has demonstrable consequences. Namely:

  • You become less resilient
  • Your problem-solving ability is diminishing

Many additional effects of prolonged increased stress are:

  • Excessive alcohol and drug use
  • Reduced attention to appearance care
  • Less attention for your social network
  • Some degree of depression and/or anxiety

During a survey among several general practitioners, it appeared that approximately 70% of all doctor's visits are more or less related to stress. Now that we know that stress causes the symptoms, as mentioned above, we are starting to investigate stress more and more seriously. It is a fact that stress is harmful to our general well-being.

Can you learn stress tolerance?

Stress affects our health, but that doesn't mean that we can't learn to deal with stress. Some people can easily cope with situations in which others become completely desperate or even panicky. How is it possible that one person is stress-resistant and another is not? Today's doctors and researchers believe that this has a lot to do with the following qualities:

  1. Control: Feeling in control of a situation.
  2. Social network: Being surrounded by friends and family.
  3. Open to change: Being able to anticipate changing circumstances. 4.Optimism: Approaching situations with an optimistic way of thinking.
  4. Physical health: Having sufficient exercise and taking time for external care.
  5. Humor: Quickly understand the humor of something and have humor.

However, these are not the factors that determine whether or not you are immune to stress. The solution to stress resistance lies in a completely different angle. The simplest solution, according to Dr. Mike Evens, is to change your thinking style.

Stress happens in our heads and has been invented by ourselves.

Most people think that stress is something that happens to us. It's like talking about a steel bridge that has been under pressure for decades and then suddenly collapses. But fortunately, our brains don't work this way. Stress is in our heads and has been created entirely by ourselves.

Some people say that their job is stressful or that this one friend gives them stress. The point is that the work or the friend is not stressful, but the thought we have about the job or the friend is the cause.

The famous psychologist and philosopher William James wrote more than 100 years ago that the most significant ability we have against stress is the ability to exchange one thought for another.

In 2011, the Swede Dr. Mats Gulliksson started following a group of 400 people who had different heart problems. He divided the group in two and gave one group a regular treatment, and the other group also received cognitive behavioral therapy in addition to the regular treatment.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy included learning to solve problems, relaxation exercises, and adjusting or unlearning different styles of thinking, such as:

  • Negative thinking: If three people say you did something right and a fourth say it wasn't right, you can think you did it worthless.
  • Predicting: I'm not going to apply for a job because they will reject me anyway.
  • Mind reading: A friend passes by who accidentally doesn't see you standing, and you immediately believe that the person doesn't like you.
  • Black and white thinking: You are on a diet and take a piece of cake which makes you believe that you can just as well eat the whole cake.

The therapy on thinking styles consisted of the reframe to more positive and healthier thinking. If you want to know more about cognitive distortions, read this article.

The group of 400 persons was studied for seven years, and the group that had also undergone cognitive behavioral therapy had a significant advantage of this. It turned out that the group was 41% less likely to have a heart attack and 28% less likely to die. It turned out that the more sessions a person had had, the lower the risk of a heart attack or death.

Mindfulness helps against stress?

A good alternative against stress is Mindfulness. Although this is considered to be vague by some, this is far from true. Therefore, Mindfulness is increasingly recommended as a complement to traditional treatment. There is more and more evidence that Mindfulness is just as effective as certain stress-reducing drugs.

Mindfulness teaches you, among other things, about:

  • Self-awareness
  • Better breathing
  • Muscle relaxation exercises
  • Meditation
  • Release from distraction and be in the moment
  • Letting go of worry and fear attacks

Viktor Frankl was a leading Neurologist and psychiatrist and had survived the Holocaust. One of his famous statements was the following:

We all have the freedom to choose how we react to something

Between something that happens and how you react to it, there is an empty space. You can fill this empty space with the power of our choice. We all have the freedom to choose how we react to something.

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