Mental Health Blog

squeezing stress ball

For Stress, Change Your Mindset

Too much stress can have serious effects on your health, but alleviating it isn’t as simple as just not doing the things that stress you out. All the things that stress you out—your job, your boss, your kids—they’re still there. What you can change, however, is your mindset and approach to handling that stress, and new research indicates that may be just as effective.

Over at The Harvard Business Review, Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. (who’s work you’ve seen here before) explains that sometimes it’s your approach to stressful events and chronic stressors that matters more than the way you handle them after the fact. We focus frequently on coping mechanisms that help you minimize the effects of stress, but she points out that with a healthy mindset and approach to stressful situations—one that looks at the stress you experience as something that can strengthen you instead of harm you—you’ll weather the stressful storm a bit better.

The full study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, turned up some surprising results:

in their studies, Crum and colleagues began by identifying stress mindsets among a group of nearly 400 employees of an international financial institution. They found that those employees who had stress-is-enhancing mindsets (compared to stress-is-debilitating) reported having better health, greater life satisfaction, and superior work performance.

That’s already rather amazing, but here’s the best part – your mindset can also change! If you have been living with a stress-is-debilitating mindset (like most of us), you don’t have to be stuck with it. A subset of the 400 employees in the aforementioned study were shown a series of three-minute videos over the course of the following week, illustrating either the enhancing or debilitating effects of stress on health, performance, and personal growth. Those in the stress-is-enhancing group (i.e., the lucky ones) reported significant increases in both well-being and work performance.

Now to be clear, the study isn’t saying that stress doesn’t stress you out, or that too much stress is somehow healthy. What the researchers point out is that your attitude and approach matter a lot, almost as much as knowing how to cope with the stress afterward. In fact, take the study results with a healthy dose of skepticism. The results are preliminary, and just one study in the face of a mountain of research about stress. However, there’s no harm (and everything good) about changing your mindset towards the things that stress you out, and if there are tangible health and lifestyle benefits to doing so (and they’re backed up by some research), then by all means, do it.

How You Can Benefit from All Your Stress | Harvard Business Review