Are you on a mission to eliminate all stress and anxiety from your life? If your answer is “yes,” you’re not alone. Our culture is currently obsessed with optimizing mental health in order to feel good all the time.
But could this desire to be stress- and anxiety-free actually be setting us up for suboptimal mental health? According to a recent presentation at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, yes. In fact, Lisa Damour, Ph.D., the psychologist who made the presentation, thinks it’s time to shift our perspective on stress and anxiety and the role they play in our lives completely.
But why? Who wouldn’t want to live a life free from stress? According to Damour, striving for a worry-free life is a recipe for failure because some stress and anxiety is inevitable. “We want to support well-being, but don’t set the bar at being happy nearly all of the time. That is a dangerous idea because it is unnecessary and unachievable,” she explained. When we make this mistake, our mental health can spiral. “Many Americans now feel stressed about being stressed and anxious about being anxious,” said said.
Plus, according to Damour, a certain amount of stress can actually be healthy. “It’s also important to understand that stress can result from both bad and good events,” she said.
In fact, stressful times are often the best of times, such as when you bring a baby home for the first time. Damour urged psychologists to communicate to their patients that “moderate levels of stress can have an inoculating function which leads to higher than average resilience when we are faced with new difficulties.” In other words, pushing ourselves a little bit can make us more resilient; we just don’t want to push ourselves too far, or it can negatively impact our health and happiness.
So how do we allow moderate amounts of stress and anxiety into our lives but prevent them from spinning out of control? According to Damour, it’s always a good idea to work with a therapist who can help you set goals to control your stress instead of eliminating it.
Another place to turn is mindfulness. “In recent years, mindfulness techniques have also emerged as an effective approach to addressing both stress and anxiety,” she said. Mindfulness practices include meditation, journaling, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.
- Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.
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