What Effect Does Stress Have During Times of Transition?
Transitions in life can be both exciting and challenging. Whether it's starting a new job, moving to a different city, having a baby, starting a new relationship, or dealing with chronic illness, these periods of change often bring increased stress and uncertainty. For those who suffer from persistent symptoms of chronic illness and/or stress, navigating these transitions can be particularly overwhelming.
We’ve talked separately about the effects transitions, and stress can have on your body and mental health. Transitions, whether we deem them “good” or “bad,” challenge our developed habits, causing us to view things in a new way. We can’t just fall back on all of our body’s carefully constructed autopilot sequences. New neural pathways are developed. As a result, we may lose some amount of certainty.
With or without your permission, your body can perceive these shifts and loss of habits as a stressor. Your fight-or-flight response is engaged, and the physiological results in your body are real; fatigue, aches, digestive issues, and sleep problems can pop up, sometimes without you even realizing it.
However, there is a powerful and somewhat unexpected tool that can help ease the burden of stress during life’s big moments and promote well-being: gratitude.
The Powerful Effects of Gratitude
Research has proven that practicing gratitude can significantly impact mental and physical health, especially during stressful times. In a study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, gratitude was found to have a unique stress-buffering effect on both our reactions to and our recovery from acute stress. Participants with a higher state of gratitude had lower systolic blood pressure responses during and after a stressful situation.
Another study, published in the National Library of Medicine, was conducted during the pandemic–when practically everyone was in a transition state. It compared the effects of gratitude-focused writing with expressive writing (simply writing freely about a challenge). While both can be helpful in coping with stress, gratitude-focused writing was actually found to reduce participants’ stress over time.
Gratitude helps counter the negative effects of stress by shifting our focus from what we lack to what we have. It activates the brain's reward center, releasing dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters associated with pleasure and well-being.
It should be clear that gratitude does not address the root cause of our stress, but that is actually a good thing. After all, isn’t much of our stress caused by what we cannot change? On the other hand, our state of mind is something we CAN change.
By cultivating gratitude, we can create a positive emotional state that counterbalances the stress and uncertainty experienced during transitions.
Practical Steps to Take
Just as your diet directly affects your physical health, what you put in your mind directly affects your mental health.
This power can be harnessed for our own benefit! Here are a few ways to inject positive, grateful thinking into your everyday life.
1. Gratitude Journaling: By consciously focusing on the positive aspects of your life, you train your mind to seek out gratitude and develop a more optimistic outlook.
- Daily, write down three things you are grateful for
- It could be as simple as a lovely sunset, a kind gesture from a friend, or a moment of peace.
2. Pause and reflect: When you find yourself overwhelmed by worry or negativity, take a moment to pause and reflect. Ask yourself questions like:
- What have I learned during this transition that has helped me to grow?
- What opportunities do I have right now that I am thankful for?
- Who in my life am I thankful for? Why?
- What beautiful thing did I see today?
You can shift your mindset and foster positive emotions by consciously redirecting your attention to what you are grateful for.
3. Cultivate self-compassion: During challenging times, it's crucial to be kind to yourself. Practice self-compassion by:
- Checking the facts: Challenge negative thoughts and assumptions by questioning their validity. Often, our worst-case scenarios are not based on reality.
- Practicing gratitude towards your body: Instead of criticizing yourself, focus on what your body is doing well, even if it's as simple as breathing.
- Engaging in self-care: Prioritize self-care by engaging in activities that nourish your body, mind, and soul.
- Celebrate small achievements: these could be as simple as staying hydrated, resting when needed, or preparing nutritious meals.
4. Integrate gratitude into your routines: Infuse gratitude into your daily activities and interactions. For example:
- Start your meals by sharing something you are grateful for with your family or friends.
- Begin or end virtual meetings with a grateful minute, where participants share what they are grateful for.
- Share a picture on social media each day of something you appreciate, along with a brief description.
5. Reach Out and Connect: Building a supportive community is crucial during transitions.
- Reach out to friends, family, or online communities who understand what you're going through.
- Share your experiences, seek support, and offer support to others.
Connecting with like-minded individuals can provide comfort, inspiration, and a sense of belonging.
That last point brings us to…
The Importance of Community
As you navigate stressful transitions and/or manage chronic symptoms, remember you're not alone. Cultivating gratitude and adopting self-care practices can significantly impact your well-being. At Vital-Side, we offer courses designed to support you on your journey to health and resilience.
If you experience chronic symptoms, start with our signature course REWIRE, which provides tools for rewiring your brain and promoting healing. If you're not experiencing physical symptoms yet but feel like you're on the way to burnout, check out our new course, REBOOT, which focuses on restoring balance and vitality. And if you want a taste of the powerful techniques we teach, start with our 7-day brain retraining course, RESET.
For more inspiring content on wellness and vitality, be sure to follow @myvitalside on Instagram and check out our podcast. Together, let's embrace gratitude, support one another, and thrive during times of transition.