Rethinking Stress: How Changing Your Attitude Can Benefit Your Health

Stress. Oh my God. The very word can stress you out! But did you know that stress can benefit your health?

How many times have you heard one of the following:

  • too much stress will kill you
  • stress contributes to weight gain
  • stress ages you
  • stress promotes disease
  • stress weakens your immune system

It’s bad bad bad bad bad. All bad, all the time!

BUT…what if it doesn’t have to be this way?

What if just your attitude about stress makes a big difference? Say what?

I’ve been telling you over and over again that you create your thoughts and your thoughts create your feelings, etc. Right?

But studies show that how people believe stress affects them actually affects the way stress affects them! Kinda like a mad, crazy circular thing!

A study of 30,000 adults in the United States aimed to find the answer. The researchers asked all of them how much stress they had in the past year.

They also asked if the participants believed stress was harmful to their health.

Well, guess what? A few years later the original researchers checked public records to see who of the 30,000 people had died.

Surprise! High levels of stress had increased the risk of dying by 41% but only among those who believed that stress was harmful to their health!!

Stress Alone Isn’t As Bad As You Think

So stress alone isn’t the culprit! Who would have thought that just thinking stress is bad for you would make it bad for you? Almost makes your head spin.

But think about this for a minute. What if you never had any stress in your life? What would that mean for your quality of life?

Did you have some stress before you first entered high school? Before you went on your first date? Got married, had children, watched your kids try and fail at something?

Sure, all of those things caused you some stress. Do you wish they hadn’t happened? I seriously doubt it.

And what does that tell you about stress? Maybe that it’s not all bad.

And here’s the thing…

What Is Stress, Anyway?

The Cleveland Clinic says:

Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses.

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.

Okay, so stress is one of your body’s reactions. Our bodies react in lots of ways. For example, they react to being hungry, having a build up of waste (the need to use the restroom), being thirsty.

Lots of thoughts going through a woman's head

Note that this definition does not indicate anything negative.

On the contrary, it’s only the thoughts you think that make it negative.

And you can change your thoughts!! Not only that, but having positive (or even neutral) thoughts about stress can actually render it useful!

So says Kelly McGonigal in her excellent book, The Upside of Stress. The back of her book says this: “What if everything you thought you knew about stress was wrong?

For example, what if changing your mind about stress could make you happier, healthier, and better able to reach your goals?”

Yeah, what if? I’m just gonna say that my mind has done a complete 180 in a bunch of ways these past few years, and I keep learning more and more about how amazing our brains are!

How Stress Affects Your Weight

If you’ve read anything about stress and weight, you’ve probably heard that the stress hormone is cortisol, and if you have too much of that, your belly will get fat.

Cortisol is one of those chemicals in your body that you want the right amount of…as the article linked above says, you don’t want too much, or too little.

The problem is, when you get stressed and think it’s horrible and you’re all worried that it’s going to make you gain weight, you’ve just adopted the bad thinking about it which is exactly what you don’t want to do.

You Need To Reframe Your Thinking

How to reframe this? How about thinking of stress in a new way?

When you experience the feelings that come with stress…maybe butterflies in your stomach, maybe a rush of color and heat to your face, choose to think about them in a beneficial way.

For example, if you get stressed when you’re about to go to the gym (you feel self-conscious maybe) tell yourself:

I’m the kind of person who gets a better workout when I feel this way.”

Or, when you you’ve had a tough day and there are cookies right in front of you on the counter, stop and think, “I can choose to eat these when I want, but I choose not to at this time.”

Cookies waiting on the counter

The problem with the above for me has always been, “yeah, that all sounds great, but I can’t just wish away my stress and anxiety.” Or so easily ignore the cookies.

And that’s true. The key here is, you have to practice the new thoughts over and over again.

It’s not just saying once, “I’m the kind of person who…” when you’ve not been that kind of person.

You need to practice and PRACTICE. You also probably need to develop a ladder of new thoughts, moving up one rung at a time.

Did I mention you need to practice???

For example, saying “I’m the kind of person who can choose to eat or not eat cookies” may not be true!

If it’s not, your brain is going to call you on it.

But what about, “I’m open to becoming the kind of person…etc.”

Stress And The Food You Eat

You may be wondering how all this talk about stress dovetails with your eating habits and/or weight gain. Think about it.

What usually causes you (at least in your own current thinking) to eat things you think you shouldn’t? Could it be stress?

  • you had a tough day at work
  • your husband didn’t remember an important day
  • you couldn’t fit into those new pants you bought last month
  • you’re too tired to cook dinner
woman emotionally eating because stress is not her friend

And so on. So you grab a pizza out of the freezer, or stop for fast food on the way home from work.

Now you’ve just blamed your poor eating choice(s) on your feelings.

Related post: How To Overcome Emotional Eating

Not on your circumstances, don’t be confused!

Even “I had a tough day at work” is a thought, not a circumstance.

The circumstance may have been that your boss called you out for not finishing something by the deadline. That’s a circumstance.

I had a tough day at work is a thought, not a circumstance. Click To Tweet

And you are 100% in charge of the thought that comes as a result of the circumstance.

One-hundred percent.

Jack Canfield:

“You will never become successful as long as you continue to blame someone or something else for your lack of success…it is you who took the actions, thought the thoughts, created the feelings, and made the choices that got you to where you are now.”

Stress & Exercise

Okay so what about exercise? How does stress relate to it?

It’s pretty well-understood that exercise can reduce stress. Exercise produces endorphins, chemicals in your brain that help reduce pain, and help you sleep better.

Both of those effects can reduce stress. There’s another way stress can be your friend!

In addition, just practicing and working toward mastery of a new dance move, pushup, yoga pose, or any number of workout-related activities can certainly take your mind off your worries.

Of course, before your thoughts even become worries, you can work on those thoughts to make them more helpful, but physical activity is certainly beneficial.

stress from exercise can help you

And then there’s the “I don’t like to exercise” excuse. Maybe you never have, you think you don’t know what you’re doing, or any number of other excuses.

Or perhaps you feel awkward, you’re flat-footed, your thighs rub together, you sweat too much. Yeah, right. Get over it.

Stop focusing on what other people think, how you feel stupid, or uncoordinated. Everyone feels this way when the first try something!

The point is, you can decide you’re going to try a new thing, and get stronger and healthier to boot. This is crucial when you’re over 50. I cannot shout that emphatically enough!


Trust me here. It’s good for your body, good for your mental state, confidence, and overall bad-assery. So just do it.

Make Stress Your Friend…Not Your Enemy

I know it sounds simple, but it works with practice.

Instead of thinking, “I’m so embarrassed every time I step foot in the gym. Everyone’s probably looking at me,” and getting all hyperventilated about it, think the new thought.

Stress can be good for your health...woman saying that stress is her bitch

If that new thought up there [I’m the kind of person who gets a better workout when I feel this way] is one that your brain tells you is fake garbage, make it more neutral:

“I’m becoming the kind of person who gets a better workout when I feel this way.”

Alternatively, “I’m open to thinking I can be the kind of person who gets a better workout when I feel this way.”

See how that works? Studies prove that these subtle changes cause stress to work FOR you instead of against you.

One of my favorite quotes EVER is this one from Jack Canfield in his best-selling book, The Success Principles:

The only thing that will change your results is changing your behavior

And of course to change your behavior (your actions) you need to change your thoughts.

In turn, thoughts lead to feelings which lead to actions (which lead to results).

See how that works?

I want you to succeed at getting those old, unhelpful and destructive thoughts replaced by helpful, affirming, positive thoughts that will get–and keep–you moving forward toward your dreams and goals.

I’ve made a free resourse to help with this. It includes ways to change your thoughts so you can change your results!

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