Everyone experiences stress in one way or another. If you are able to recognize it, there are many ways to reduce it. My goal is to help get rid of the negative connotations around stress and help people use it to their advantage. On this webpage, you will find some of the most effective positive psychology practices to reduce your stress and live a happier life.
What is Stress?
The National Institute of Mental Health defines stress as simply “the brain’s response to any demand.” Given that definition, not all stress is bad. It is simply a response. How harmful it ultimately depends on its intensity, duration, and treatment. Stress affects everyone, and people handle it differently. People often think that no one else feels stressed and they are alone. This is easy to conclude because stress is not tangible nor quantifiable, but according to a study from the American Psychological Association, 73% of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress and 33% feel they are living with extreme stress Before you continue reading more about stress, let’s take a quiz to see how stressed you are.
After taking this quiz, I urge all of you to share this with friends and family to help others battle stress and figure out what works best for them. There will other ways to handle stress given to you after the quiz. I urge you to try those out as well to see what stress-relieving strategy works the best for you.
Is All Stress Bad?
The goal should be to not have absolutely no stress in your life. Without it, people tend to be inactive, laid back, and lose motivation in whatever their goals may be. Stress can provide a helpful sense of urgency and help performance in aspects of your life (school, athletics, work, etc…) if handled correctly, as shown in the graph below created by Professor Danny Hamiel, Director of the Educational Intervention Unit of the Cohen Harris Resilience Center.
How to Handle It
In this section, I will include helpful positive psychology techniques to lower stress levels and allow you to reach peak performance in the optimum stress level. Positive Psychology has so far identified several positive emotional states that can contribute to greater emotional resilience, health, and fulfillment. At the bottom of this page, I will include links to other websites that include more ways to practice positive psychology. There are many ways to cope.
Positive Psychology Methods
According to the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley, mindfulness is:
“maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.”
Done correctly, mindfulness will allow you to decrease your stress and anxiety, minimize the amount of time that you spend feeling overwhelmed, and help you appreciate each small moment as it happens. In a world of chaos, mindfulness might just be the trick you need to learn to be able to cope with the madness.
Personally, my favorite way to practice mindfulness is through a simple 3-minute mindfulness body-scan meditation. In the clip below, I will walk you through the steps and teach you how to relax the mind and body.
A definition of gratitude from the Harvard Medical School, which says that gratitude is:
“a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives … As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power”
A study conducted by The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley randomly assigned study participants into three groups. Although all three groups received counseling services, the first group was also instructed to write one letter of gratitude to another person each week for three weeks, whereas the second group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences. The third group did not do any writing activity.
What did they find? Compared with the participants who wrote about negative experiences or only received counseling, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended. This suggests that gratitude writing can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those who struggle with mental health concerns.
Here is how you can incorporate gratitude letters into your daily life…
Before you write a letter, pick someone who does a lot for you who doesn’t receive enough praise or appreciation for their work. When I did this the first time, I wrote a letter to my mother. Even better, you can pick someone who isn’t always on your mind and set up a time to deliver the letter to them. Next is the fun part. Now you get to write your letter. Follow these steps, provided by The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, while writing your letter.
- Write as though you are addressing this person directly (“Dear ______”)
- Don’t worry about perfect grammar or spelling.
- Describe in specific terms what this person did, why you are grateful to this person, and how this person’s behavior affected your life. Try to be as concrete as possible.
- Describe what you are doing in your life now and how you often remember his or her efforts.
- Try to keep your letter to roughly one page (~300 words).
Next, you should try if at all possible to deliver your letter in person, following these steps:
- Plan a visit with the recipient. Let that person know you’d like to see him or her and have something special to share, but don’t reveal the exact purpose of the meeting.
- When you meet, let the person know that you are grateful to them and would like to read a letter expressing your gratitude; ask that he or she refrain from interrupting until you’re done.
- Take your time reading the letter. While you read, pay attention to his or her reaction as well as your own.
- After you have read the letter, be receptive to his or her reaction and discuss your feelings together.
- Remember to give the letter to the person when you leave.
If physical distance keeps you from making a visit, you may choose to arrange a phone or video chat.
I urge all of you to share this site with your friends and family who could use this. Even if they looked relaxed, don’t shy away from sharing this with them. You never know how much stress anyone is under.
In the link below, please share about one time in the last couple of days you experienced an abnormal amount of stress. Also, please include how you handled it, and if you think you could have handled it better.
Other Positive Psychology Practices (Links)
Bergquist, Sharon Horesh, prod. How stress affects your body. TedEd, 2015.
Cherry, Kendra. “5 Surprising Ways That Stress Affects Your Brain.” Very Well Mind (blog). Entry posted March 27, 2019. Accessed April 22, 2019. https://www.verywellmind.com/surprising-ways-that-stress-affects-your-brain-2795040.
“5 Things You Should Know About Stress.” The National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center. Accessed April 22, 2019. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml.
Greater Good Science Center. “A 3-Minute Body Scan Meditation to Cultivate Mindfulness.” Mindful. Last modified March 6, 2017. Accessed April 22, 2019. https://www.mindful.org/a-3-minute-body-scan-meditation-to-cultivate-mindfulness/.
Hamiel, Danny. The Stress Curve. Photograph. Leon Charney Resolution Center. Accessed April 22, 2019. http://www.charneyresolutioncenter.com/journal/2017/3/9/reflections-on-the-anti-stress-workshop.
Harvard University. “In Praise of Gratitude.” Harvard Health Publishing. Last modified November 2011. Accessed April 22, 2019. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/in-praise-of-gratitude.
Scott, Elizabeth. “Using Positive Psychology for Stress Management.” Very Well Mind (blog). Entry posted October 24, 2019. Accessed April 22, 2019. https://www.verywellmind.com/using-positive-psychology-for-stress-management-3144620.
Scott, S.J. “How to Practice Mindfulness (The Ultimate Guide to Being More Mindful Throughout the Day).” Develop Good Habits. Accessed April 22, 2019. https://www.developgoodhabits.com/how-to-practice-mindfulness/.
Smith, Kathleen. “6 Common Triggers of Teen Stress.” Psycom. Accessed April 22, 2019. https://www.psycom.net/common-triggers-teen-stress/.
“Stress and Anxiety Quiz.” Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. Accessed April 22, 2019. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes/embed/stress_and_anxiety.
“What Is Mindfulness?” Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. Accessed April 22, 2019. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition.