From the point of view of evolutionary biology, stress is a blessing. It enabled our ancestors to hunt multi-ton mammoths or to flee quickly from a bush fire. Since prehistoric times, our brain has been programmed to perceive threatening events more strongly than positive ones. Some scientists call this general mindset "catastrophic".
For people of industrial society, stress is rarely associated with danger to life. Nevertheless, the mindset program "negative beats positive" runs very reliably. If we are faced with a problem, it is difficult to distract ourselves from it. This is good because we have to recognize and penetrate problems in order to solve them. But those who get lost in pondering not only torture themselves unnecessarily, but possibly miss the chance to make the best of their situation. These tips make it easier for you to outwit your “catastrophic” brain:
Avoid the naysayers
Your colleagues’ mood is sometimes better, sometimes worse – and you can hardly escape from that. But there’s something you do have in your hands: Stick to colleagues who deal with stress in a more relaxed way, and do not spend unnecessary time with pessimists.
The power of language
The Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius was convinced that happiness was, above all, a mental matter. "In the long run, your soul will take on the color of your thoughts," he said. Notorious complaints don’t change a situation; on the contrary, negative thinking can itself into reality. If you assume that a person does not like you, you will probably keep your distance – and thus you will appear less likeable. Conversely, positive thoughts can have a healing effect: According to a study by Harvard Medical School, mental training with a positive mantra demonstrably improves mental well-being.
Today is not your day?
Don't let stress at work influence your entire life. It is not fate that is bad for you. Imagine you’ve had an unpleasant working day, and as you arrive at the train station the elevator doesn't run. You could either get upset or take it as an option to work out: Climbing stairs will probably even benefit you.
Make a news diet
Of course, it's important to know what's happening in the world. However, mainstream media are full of bad news. Control your media consumption consciously, for example by setting a time limit of 20 minutes daily. The same applies to your social media news feed. A study by the University of Pennsylvania has shown that people who spend too much time on Instagram, Twitter and similar sites feel worse than others who follow kind of a social media diet.
Treat yourself to a dose of happiness
It's a mystery: in times of crisis, some people surrender completely to their frustration – as if they were forbidden to feel better. Those who are more experienced in stress compensation consciously switch over by doing sports, listening to their favorite music or meeting friends. During such activities, the human body breaks down the stress hormone cortisol and releases feel-good messengers such as dopamine and serotonin. Another tip to distract yourself instantly from any nuisance: Make a collection of photos (for example from magazines) that remind you of something positive or you simply find beautiful, and paste them into a “good mood book” you always keep within reach.
Mental resilience – a long-term project
With many small changes in your daily thinking and behavior you will be able to develop a thicker skin in the long run. The technical term for this is resilience. Most often it evolves in persons who have actively mastered crises. Resilient people are more likely to accept difficult situations and expect to cope with them. In the course of their lives, they have developed a set of solution strategies that work well for them.
For example, if you want to train your mental muscles, you can try the following: Write down which crises you have already overcome and what has helped you to overcome them. Write down what you have learned that can help you with future problems. Record what you are really good at in three areas of life: work, relationships and leisure. Which of these skills can you rely on in times of crisis – your decisiveness, your organizational talent, your sense of humor? In tough times, get this list out of the drawer and make yourself aware of your strengths, which is usually not easy when you’re under stress. Work on your resilience even in the case of minor annoyances in everyday life. An overloaded to-do list, a colleague who wants to blame you for a mistake or a notoriously dissatisfied customer can be reasons to strengthen your composure. Being more relaxed in general, your confidence will grow that you will master any major crisis lying ahead of you.
"Why worry?" – Indian coach Gaur Gopal Das explains in just one minute why you should never worry. Click here for the video on YouTube.