It's funny how a couple of weeks away from work can change a person's views. In the run up to Christmas I heard a good number of grumbles about having to deal with relatives, the price of fuel, the way Christmas has been hijacked by business, and so on. Now it's time to go back to work I hear the sighs of despondency, the complaints about office politics, difficult staff, awkward customers and the like.
The way we shift from situation to situation can certainly be stressful. Each has its way of making demands on our personal resources and there seems little doubt that many people already function at the upper tolerance of their capacity. For them, just a bit more stress is enough to shift the balance from health to illness or to begin shaping a once accommodating and pleasant personality into something else.
Everyone knows that people react differently to stress. Some have short fuses and explode in fury, others implode and simmer, yet others seem permanently calm and collected. How do they do it and what can we learn from them?
It's possible that some people have a genetic advantage when it comes to stress. They seem more resilient, more optimistic, less inclined to take things personally. It's difficult to prove that these Teflon-coated personalities are the product of some genetic accident however and perhaps this just becomes one of the convenient ways to explain something we don't really understand? Just as compelling are the suggestions that a solid loving foundation as a child provides the necessary scaffolding for life as an adult.
We've come to understand a great deal about stress, the way it depresses mood and can lead to ill health. Much less is known about optimism or what might generally be thought of as positive emotions. To what extent might positive moods protect us against the negative effects of stress, or even repair the damage caused by stress?
The past few years has seen a growing level of interest in and around the psychology of positive emotions. What evidence there is seems to point to positive emotions being associated with favorable health outcomes. Positive emotions are known to have a positive effect on our nervous and endocrine systems. People with more positive outlooks have consistently lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and on heart rate and blood pressure.
We've spent a lot of time and resources looking into the negative effects of stress and potential buffers to stress. The emphasis has tended to be towards people as victims of stress. We use anti-stress techniques as ways of combating the enemy and of protecting ourselves. I'm certainly not dismissing these anti-stress mechanisms and techniques, they are much too important. What's interesting however is the fact that attention is slowly turning towards ways in which the effects of stress might actually be dismantled through positive thinking. This, to me, points to an interesting line of enquiry and one I'll be keeping an eye on.
Published On: January 04, 2012