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Battling Stress? Don't Relax -- Get Tough

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Battling Stress? Don't Relax -- Get Tough

Take a look at most books and courses on stress management and you might think that reducing stress is all about taking a few deep breaths, uttering a few calming chants, and blissfully floating on a cloud. Is that your real world? I didn't think so.
Actually, a stress-free life can be as unhealthy as an over-stressed one because, for most of the important things we do in our lives, a certain amount of optimum stimulation is necessary for health and peak performance. Research at the University of Nebraska has identified a psychophysiological process called toughening to describe what happens when challenging situations are dealt with by active coping and problem solving.
Overwhelming stress overtaxes the nervous system and leads to a variety of maladaptive mental and physical effects, including high blood pressure, sleep disorders, gastrointestinal problems, chronic anxiety, and depression. However, individuals who have developed effective coping and mastery skills show a more efficient and adaptive nervous system response that returns promptly to normal baseline when the crisis is over.
Over time, a positive spiral develops: More effective coping leads to a smoother psychobiological stress response and, the more this happens, the more the person learns to have faith in his or her own coping abilities – so the stress response becomes even more adaptive and less disruptive. The result is less stress, fewer illnesses, and better overall functioning and productivity.
So how do you learn to toughen up? Unfortunately, by relying mainly on relaxation or other arousal-reduction techniques, many so-called “stress-management” programs portray stress as something to be reduced or avoided at all costs, thus inhibiting the learning of adaptive coping skills to deal with life's challenges.
Here in the real world, there are a number of practical psychological strategies that can help you become more stress-resilient:
• Arousal control. learning to both increase and decrease arousal as appropriate to the situation.
• Attentional focus. Utilizing the proper beam of attention to take account of the situation and its requirements.
• Imagery. Using mental imagery to internally rehearse adaptive coping strategies.
• Cognitive Restructuring. Learning to reinterpret situations in terms of mastery and control.
• Self-talk. Becoming your own instructor and mentor in challenging situations.
The key is flexibility in both behavior and the nervous system's stress-response system that enables the stress-adaptive person to adapt to and master challenging situations. While some people do this naturally, with the right training, almost all of us can learn to be better stress-busters.



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