How To See Stress and Anxiety Positively — Since You Can’t Avoid Them

Stress and anxiety are normal parts of everyday life.

Stress and anxiety are normal parts of everyday life.

It is not normal for people to feel relaxed and calm at all times — stress and anxiety are part of everyday life.

However, stress and anxiety can play a positive role in our lives, if they are approached in the right way.

So says psychologist Dr Lisa Damour during a presentation at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

People tend to feel stressed, she says, when they are working at the edge of their abilities.

Although stress is a given, working through it can increase people’s resilience.

Similarly, anxiety, while also common in everyday life, can be protective.

Being aware that anxiety can motivate positive behaviours helps people make good use of it.

For example, anxiety can stop procrastination or help people take protective measures against threats.

Unfortunately, many find that the very idea of stress makes them feel stressed, said Dr Damour:

“Many Americans now feel stressed about being stressed and anxious about being anxious.

Unfortunately, by the time someone reaches out to a professional for help, stress and anxiety have already built to unhealthy levels.”

Anxiety has a vital, positive function, explains Dr Damour:

“Anxiety is an internal alarm system, likely handed down by evolution, that alerts us to threats both external — such as a driver swerving in a nearby lane — and internal — such as when we’ve procrastinated too long and it’s time to get started on our work.”

Naturally, stress and anxiety can be harmful if they reach chronic levels, says Dr Damour:

“Stress causes harm when it exceeds any level that a person can reasonably absorb or use to build psychological strength,.

Likewise, anxiety becomes unhealthy when its alarm makes no sense.

Sometimes, people feel routinely anxious for no reason at all.

At other times, the alarm is totally out of proportion to the threat, such as when a student has a panic attack over a minor quiz.”

Stress and anxiety levels that are too high, and remain untreated, can lead to psychological and medical problems:

“Anyone feeling overwhelmed by stress should, if possible, take measures to reduce his or her stress and/or seek help from a trained professional to learn stress management strategies.

For the management of anxiety, some people find relief through workbooks that help them to evaluate and challenge their own irrational thoughts.

If that approach isn’t successful, or preferred, a trained professional should be consulted.

In recent years, mindfulness techniques have also emerged as an effective approach to addressing both stress and anxiety.”

The research was presented at annual convention of the American Psychological Association (Damour, 2019).

Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.

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