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The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Stress Graphic © healthpowerboost.com. Background photo: Pixabay (PD)
Is your glass half full or half empty? You’ve likely heard this age-old question in relation to mindset. Your answer is assumed to hint at whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist. It may sound simple, but the concept behind the “half full vs. half empty” narrative may offer important insight into how we can manage stress and live healthier, happier, and more productive lives.
Stress is an inevitability of life. Circumstances will arise that’ll trigger your biological fight-or-flight response. But while you can’t control what life throws your way, it is well within your power to control how you frame the challenge.
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
– William James
You can either see a stressor as a springboard or an obstacle. And according to Dr. Mike Evans, the simple practice of changing your way of thinking could be the single most important thing you can do for your stress.
Contrary to some assumptions, stress is not all bad. Yes, chronic stress can be a risk factor for health conditions like depression, anxiety disorders, and heart disease.  But it’s also a necessary survival mechanism.
When you encounter a major challenge or threat, your brain may respond by flooding your body with hormones and chemicals that bump up your awareness and energy levels. This allows you to focus on your immediate needs. You can think of the stress response as a way for your body to prep itself for a fight or to run from the stressor.
A stressor can be anything from a tight deadline to an incoming special event or everyday hassles. For some, such events can be debilitating. But with a positive and adaptable mindset, it’s possible to tap into the heightened state of a stress response to increase your performance or productivity.
Change Your Perception, Change Your Life
The body and the mind are intrinsically linked when it comes to stress. Learning how to manage or handle stress can help alleviate its negative effect on your body—instead giving you the energy and strength to overcome adversity.
The idea that you can influence the psychological and physical impact of stress by merely changing your perception may seem too simplistic. Still, scientific research suggests that there is power in reframing your mindset.
In a study published in Health Psychology, a team of researchers affiliated with the University of Wisconsin-Madison sought to investigate how the perception of stress affects health and mortality.  They monitored the death rates of a group of over 28,000 respondents over a 9-year period.
The findings showed that there was no link between premature death and having “a lot of stress” in the past 12 months.
However, the risk of premature death increased by a significant 43% when people reported having “a lot of stress” coupled with the mindset that it was affecting health. This study group also reported an increased risk of poor health and mental health.
A 2019 study appearing in the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology showed that interpersonal positive reframing was linked to lower levels of stress among couples coping with breast cancer. 
In another study appearing in the Journal of experimental psychology: General, reappraisal on the perks of the body’s stress response before a stress-inducing event was shown to improve the performance and confidence of respondents.  In other words, telling people that stress makes them stronger positively affected their mental state—and physiological indicators showed that their bodies coped better than those who were taught to ignore stress.
And according to a study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, you can cope effectively and increase stress resilience by practicing present-moment awareness.  This involves focusing on current experiences rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
How To Change Your Thoughts
The concept behind mitigating the impact of stress in your life by changing your way of thinking is pretty simple on paper. And with practice, you can learn to implement the strategy. Here’s how to go about it:
You can start practicing how to change your perception of stress by learning more about thinking patterns. How do pessimists or optimists view their life experiences?
Then take time to notice your thoughts. Be mindful of your thinking patterns during stress-inducing events. Practice present-moment awareness.
Finally, challenge your thoughts and replace any negative ones with more positive thoughts. Adopt thoughts that fit your situation but with a more positive outlook on the experience.
The takeaway is that stress is a natural and unavoidable part of life. But when it’s chronic—and without effective coping strategies—it can take a toll on your mental and physical health.
Fortunately, research suggests that you can improve your psychological well-being by changing how you think about stress. Reframe your perception of stress to potentially change how you experience it.
 Slavich, G. M., & Irwin, M. R. (2014). From stress to inflammation and major depressive disorder: a social signal transduction theory of depression. Psychological bulletin, 140(3), 774: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4006295/
 Patriquin, M. A., & Mathew, S. J. (2017). The neurobiological mechanisms of generalized anxiety disorder and chronic stress. Chronic stress, 1, 2470547017703993: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5832062/
 Gallo, L. C., Roesch, S. C., Fortmann, A. L., Carnethon, M. R., Penedo, F. J., Perreira, K., … & Isasi, C. R. (2014). Associations of chronic stress burden, perceived stress, and traumatic stress with cardiovascular disease prevalence and risk factors in the HCHS/SOL Sociocultural Ancillary Study. Psychosomatic medicine, 76(6), 468: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4349387/
 Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E. R., Creswell, P. D., & Witt, W. P. (2012). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health psychology, 31(5), 677: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3374921/
 Robbins, M. L., Wright, R. C., María López, A., & Weihs, K. (2019). Interpersonal positive reframing in the daily lives of couples coping with breast cancer. Journal of psychosocial oncology, 37(2), 160-177: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07347332.2018.1555198?journalCode=wjpo20
 Jamieson, J. P., Nock, M. K., & Mendes, W. B. (2012). Mind over matter: reappraising arousal improves cardiovascular and cognitive responses to stress. Journal of experimental psychology: General, 141(3), 417: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3410434/
 Donald, J. N., Atkins, P. W., Parker, P. D., Christie, A. M., & Ryan, R. M. (2016). Daily stress and the benefits of mindfulness: Examining the daily and longitudinal relations between present-moment awareness and stress responses. Journal of Research in Personality, 65, 30-37: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0092656616301118?via%3Dihub
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