The Two River Times | New Research on Stress

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By Dan Tomasulo, PH.D.

New research has shed light on the impact stress has on our bodies. As it turns out, a hectic life will only cause a stressed response if we believe the symptoms are bad for us. If we interpret our heart rate going up or increased perspiration as indicators that something terrible is happening… then something bad happens.

Those who have a stressful life but explain their responses as helpful have a much more relaxed and productive response. This drastically changes our perspective on what stress is and how to cope. What happens to us doesn’t matter as much as what we believe is happening to us.

The key to changing our beliefs is slowing down the runaway anxious thoughts that usually kick in when we are under stress.

Here are three ways to break the cycle
and change your thoughts about what’s

• Take five. This is a straightforward technique that allows you to interrupt anxious thoughts by taking in and releasing five breaths. Hold out your left hand, palm up, and with your right index finger run from the tip of your pinky into the center of your palm breathing in. When you get to the center, move your finger back out along the same path and repeat this with each finger. This pause for thought gives you that precious moment to collect your wits and reinterpret your symptoms.

• Activate your resources. To help deal with the issue at hand you may want to get some help. Call a friend who can help, look on the internet or ask a family member for support. Research shows that activating our immediate resources gives us a more productive approach and begins the process of putting our body’s responses into productive, rather than destructive, use.

• Help someone else. Those who help others tend to have a much lower stress load than those who are only concerned with themselves. Study after study shows that when we are helping others, we get out of our own anxieties and channel our responses into something productive.

Laferton, J. A., Stenzel, N. M., & Fischer, S. (2018).
The Beliefs About Stress Scale (BASS): Development, reliability, and validity. International Journal of Stress Management, 25(1), 72.

Dan Tomasulo holds a Ph.D. in psychology, an MFA in writing and a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. He teaches positive psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. For more information, visit his website

This article was first published in the July 4 – 10, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.

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