Putting Stress to Good Use
This week marks the 10th annual “Change in Thinking Week,” and the week-long event invites people from all walks of life to reflect on mental health. In the 1960s, Dr. Robert C. Levenson, a psychiatrist, coined the “week of mental health” to challenge the ingrained ideas that positive thinking promotes an unchangeable image of a better life. The week also taught people about the connection between stress and disease.
“The premise of the change in thinking movement was that every day we are sitting in front of the mirror and seeing something that we would like to change,” said Pernilla Bergwall, the newly appointed Health Promotion Specialist for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The week of thinking, also known as the wellness week, believes that stress can help to give us clarity and a new outlook. “We know that stress is bad for our health, and we have to acknowledge and recognize those moments where we are pushing through some of the heavy emotions,” Bergwall said.
Positive stress changes perspectives and connects us to the positive side of stress. “It challenges us to move from a place of perfectionism, to being more accepting of the positive stuff that’s happening in our lives,” Bergwall added.
Giving in to the stress causes us to see the world in a more positive way and allows us to experience ourselves and those around us in a way that is supportive. We can improve our mental health by recognizing the good things that happen to us. For instance, learning about the mind-body connection and the benefits of meditation can help create a more harmonious environment.
Many of us believe that “I can do it” or “I am good enough” in times of pressure and anxiety. In fact, research shows that when people say they want to change but just don’t, they tend to resist their own thoughts. Because we have the ability to change our thoughts, it has become something of a central task during a workplace “Change in Thinking Week.”
One of the organizations working with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is Mindset Inc., which helps people to understand and develop healthier mental attitudes and behaviors. So, the first step in helping to improve mental health is recognizing the positive aspects of stress. This means understanding that we are not stuck, and that sometimes good things are happening.
However, challenges do occur, and we need to recognize how to deal with them in an open-minded and accepting way. We need to challenge negative thoughts when we notice them and take action if necessary.
The other key factor in helping to improve mental health is to recognize the benefits of time off. Research has found that people who get enough sleep or spend more time being physically active have a better overall health. By recognizing that having access to both healthy foods and mental health treatment can help us feel better and feel happier, we can be more mentally healthy.
“It’s a habit that should start early, so that it helps you to deal with whatever stress you are facing,” Bergwall said. “Not wanting to let something get you down, creating more room for yourself to go deep and understand what’s happening, and having that flexibility to take that time to do what’s important to you.”