Too often we overlook the critical role that our psychology plays in our health and our physiology. When people tell us that our wellbeing and performance are very much a result of our mental state, we might dismiss them as being ‘hippies’ or as just reading too much self-help. But really the control that our mental state has over our physiology is something that cannot be overstated and this is particularly true when it comes to psychological stress. Our mental state very directly and strongly influences our physical wellbeing. Read on to see how…
How Psychological Stress Transforms Your Body
Think about the fight-or-flight response – this is an example of psychological stress completely transforming your physiology. When you’re in a confrontation or about to go up on stage, you will find your heart rate increases, you start to feel sick and anxious and you even begin shaking uncontrollably. You might not know it but right now your blood is also becoming thicker and more likely to clot if you get injured, your muscles are tensing and getting stronger and even your senses are becoming more acute.
And what’s causing all this? Is it an illness or something you ate? No – it’s simply the situation you’re in.
But really even that isn’t directly what’s causing the problem. Because you know that if you weren’t afraid of public speaking, you wouldn’t be getting that same reaction. In other words: it’s not the situation that is causing your body’s response but rather it’s your own appraisal of the situation. It’s your belief that you’re in danger that is causing the stress response and triggering such profound changes in your body.
Getting Ahold of Psychological Stress
What this should tell you then, is that you really do have control over your body’s response to stress – and to everything else for that matter. All stress is ‘psychological stress’ and that means that if you can teach yourself to stay calm in a crisis and to work efficiently through your to-do list, you can prevent yourself from getting stressed.
Just as you could probably imagine yourself into a stressed fight-or-flight state, so too can you think yourself out of one.
To do this you need to learn to reflect on your own thought patterns and to learn the kinds of thoughts that work you into a state. At the same time you need to question these assumptions and thoughts and to replace them with more positive ideas that will help you to relax and to cope.
This is ‘cognitive restructuring’ which is a tool from cognitive behavioral therapy. If you can exercise mental discipline and learn to control your perception of events, you can combat psychological stress and you can ensure you are always in the optimal state to tackle whatever life throws at you.