Pop quiz: How do you think of stress in your life: as something bad that's bringing you down, something you'd like to avoid or eliminate, or something that's gotten the better of you and has negative consequences on your day-to-day experiences and happiness? Is stress an enemy in your mind? Likely so, but you may want to try reshaping how you mentally think of stress, as a way to minimize the negative health effects of stress.
Hear us out: Stress is an evolutionary tool that enabled our ancestors to face fear, perform, survive, and excel. It fuels our fire, gets our minds and bodies pumped with energy, and propels us to take on challenges. There has been no shortage of research in recent years about the negative long-term consequences of sustained stress, from cardiovascular effects to depression and weight gain. But when we change our mindset to think of stress as a challenge versus a threat, we can actually determine and change the anatomic effects stress has on our bodies.
Basically, how we "appraise" stress—as a positive or negative thing—determines how our body reacts in kind and can break the link between negative experiences and "malignant physiological responses," explains researchers who authored a 2012 study in Psychology Today on "The Power of Reappraisal." By appraising stress as a positive tool for enhanced performance (i.e., as a challenge), we train our body to respond to stress with a positive physical state, instead of a negative one with negative long-term impacts on health.