To Manage Stress, Choose Your Perspective

Stress can be a perspective, says Kelly McGonigal. “It’s how you think about stress that determines how it affects you,” the Stanford University researcher told the Washington Post

McGonigal’s research looks at how your perspective about what’s going on affects your response. 

“The more you try to avoid and resist the suffering, the worse it gets,” she said. “The more you mindfully accept it—the anxiety, the suffering, the stress—and take action anyway, the more it improves your own well-being.” 

When you think you’re stressed, one perspective you may adopt is that you're going to suffer.

Another perspective is that you can learn, grow or even thrive amid stress.

I saw this firsthand during a lunch with colleagues, when I couldn’t help overhearing the talk at a nearby table.

“I’m so stretched!” one woman told her friends. She was smiling genuinely as she told stories about all that was going on in her life: a more demanding work schedule plus more frequent business travel, not to mention the ending of a romantic relationship. 

This woman had chosen a perspective about her stress.

I tuned into what she was saying because any one of those events could trigger the familiar label of stress that equates to suffering. Imagine if she had that perspective; her friends would have seen how tired she looked and felt her overwhelm (assuming her stress didn’t just keep her at home).

Yet here she was, framing this time and these events as creating “stretch.”

Perspective is defined as “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.” 

The appeal of perspective is that it offers a choice, to choose a different perspective. 

But first we have to realize that we’re seeing the world through a perspective.

That’s where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness teaches the value of pressing the pause button of life. When we can remember to do that, it’s possible to then notice that we’re moving through our days with a perspective in mind. In that pause is the opportunity to make a choice.

David Gelles, author of Mindful Work, puts it this way: “Because stress arises from a mismatch between what we want to be happening and what is actually happening, simply accepting things as they are—and having the wherewithal to let go of any strong emotional reactions—is an extraordinarily useful skill. We can’t always change what’s happening, but we can change our responses.”

Practice: Explore your perspective

Here are some steps to explore further:

  • What’s your reaction to the idea that you can choose a perspective about stress? 
  • How do you want to ‘be” with one stressful thing that’s going on in your life?
  • Find a quiet moment. Consider something that’s going on that you think of as stressful in a bad or harmful way. What’s the opposite? What’s possible there?  
  • What are you involved with that’s the result of choices you’ve made to pursue challenge, opportunity, learning or connection? What if you re-classify these as stretches?

I help people get on a path to a career and life they love. We look at what’s going on in your life, explore points of view and see what’s possible from there. Are you ready to elevate your life with concrete action and self-care? Check out my services page to see how I can support you.