Change Your Approach to Stress by Reframing Your Thoughts


Thinking, Feeling and Stress

If you are feeling stressed these days, you’re  not  alone.

Research as recent as October of 2015, reported the leading causes of stress among Americans to be job pressure, money, health, relationships, poor nutrition, media overload, and sleep deprivation. That about covers the entire day from sunrise to sunset, nearly every day, for many Americans.

More than three-quarters (77%) of people reported regularly experiencing physical symptoms brought on by stress.1

  • 51% reported fatigue
  • 44% headaches
  • 34% stomach upset
  • 30% muscle tension.
  • 23% change in appetite
  • 17% teeth grinding
  • 15% change in sex drive
  • 13% reported feeling dizzy.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) reported experiencing psychological symptoms caused by stress.1

  • 50% reported irritability or anger
  • 45% felt nervous
  • 45% lacked energy
  • 35% reported feeling as though they could cry.

For those who experience stress, there are often negative impacts on well-being. But despite this dark cloud, could there be a silver lining? Is it possible to find something good about these stress statistics?

Positive Reframing: The Silver Lining for Stress

When we consciously choose to find something positive in a stressful situation, we call this “positive reframing”.

Positive reframing is associated with lower levels of psychopathology, stress, and depression.

When trying to cope with a stressful situation, if one tries to see things in a more positive light and to look for something good in what happened, it can help us to cope more effectively with the event and most often results in greater satisfaction at the end of the day.

If it happens to be a small thing, we can simply have a good laugh about it.

To see if a positive reframe might help us experience these stress statistics more positively and thereby experience more of the silver lining effect, read the following paragraph and compare how you feel after reading it to how you felt after reading the paragraph above about the same stress research findings (the paragraph beginning with “In fact…).

Did you know that 1 out of 4 people do not experience psychological or physical symptoms brought on by stress? In fact, 1 out of 2 people don’t lack energy, are free of fatigue, headaches, irritability, anger, and nervousness. Additionally, 3 out of 4 people report no change in appetite, no teeth grinding, no change in sex drive, and no dizziness as a result of stress.

Finally, 2 out of 3 report no stomach upset, no muscle tension, and do not feel as though they could cry as a result of stress.1

Did reading this feel less negative, simply by having reframed the stress statistics so as to see the flip side, the “what is good about this” side of the situation?

What About “Cognitive Reappraisal”?

Along with positive reframing is a similar psychological construct called cognitive reappraisal. It refers to reframing an event in order to change one’s emotional response to it.2

Research found that after watching an emotional film clip, participants instructed to use reappraisal reported less negative emotion compared to those instructed to use a “just watch” strategy. Self-reported use of reappraisal to cope with emotion-eliciting situations results in experiencing less negative emotion and more positive outcomes over time.3

Many studies highlight similar findings that cognitive reappraisal and positive reframing skills are associated with lower rates of depression and better outcomes related to coping with stressful situations.

With practice, the way our bodies respond to stress can change.

Practice these reframing and reappraisal skills to develop the habit of finding what is good in any situation.

Sometimes we are able to call on our gratitude practice to find aspects of any situation for which we are grateful.

Sometimes it is as simple as reminding ourselves that the situation could be much worse, or reminding ourselves that there must be an upside to this situation (so let me at least open my mind to finding it).

We may find less negative emotion associated with the challenges and stressors we face, and with that comes better emotion regulation and happier hormone activity within our bodies.

The ability to be mindful of how much better we feel when we make conscious efforts to see the positive in any situation is very reinforcing.

It may not make that car repair bill any less or make the money magically appear in our bank accounts, but it just may lead us to be grateful for owning the car, or grateful that we found a really nice service station that we didn’t know about before we broke down, or that we simply are grateful that our bill is not a thousand dollars and instead is just five hundred dollars.

When we feel less stressed we typically feel less depressed, anxious, sad or frustrated.

Give positive reframing and cognitive reappraisal a try in your everyday life and see whether you start to feel happier and healthier, and much less stressed.

12015 Statistic Brain Research Institute, publishing as Statistic Brain. 12/10/2015

2Gross, J.J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2, 271-299.

3Gross, J.J. and John, O.P. (2003). Individual differences in two emotion regulation processes: Implications for affect, relationships, and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 348-362.

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About the Author

Carolyn Whitney, PhD

Carolyn is a trained social psychologist who has spent much of her career teaching about and researching positive psychology topics and health and wellbeing. She uses a holistic approach to coaching and empowering clients to make desired changes in order to live more fulfilling and rich lives. At Green Mountain and within her blog posts, she teaches on topics including unhooking from negative self-talk, cultivating gratitude and self-compassion, strategies to simplify life, mindset management for stress reduction and more. Carolyn is the Behavior Lead at Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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