Like snoring and blood pressure, the way that we respond to stress and how much it overwhelms us can be determined by genetics, habits, early life experiences or some combination of thereof. Studies are now finding that those who respond more acutely to stress could actually have an overactive amygdala, the part of the brain that triggers the fight-or-flight response. Others may be genetically predisposed to deal with stress poorly, which could lead to things like generalized anxiety disorder and other medical issues such as heart disease, depression and weight gain. Still others may deal with stress in unhealthy ways because of “adverse childhood events” or traumas, which imprint someone with negative reaction reflexes in the long term.
The good news is that however you deal with stress, and however it affects you, it is actually possible to train yourself to respond in a healthier way. A recent study from the Yale Stress Center demonstrated that people with more neuroplasticity in the prefrontal cortex part of the brain were less likely to deal with stress in negative, unhealthy ways and more likely to be able to positively cope with it, says Yale Stress Center director Rajita Sinha.
To increase neuroplasticity and better deal with stress, try practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of taking some time to be present in the current moment, and simply observe and be with your surroundings, thoughts and self without passing judgment. This can actually help to shrink your amygdala, and therefore actually manipulate how your brain responds to stress.
Control of a scenario also plays a large part in whether or not a person becomes stressed in that situation, and how they deal with it. There is research that demonstrates that if you perceive that you are in control of a situation, you are less likely to feel stressed about it, whether or not you are actually in control. While most of life’s stressful events are out of our hands, you can take some steps to plan as much of your day, week, or long-term period as possible. Even though screenshotting a train schedule or bringing an umbrella doesn’t actually control when the train comes or whether or not it rains, you will have the tools to cope with these events and perceive that you are in control of the situation.
Another way to manipulate your own outlook to minimize stress is by simply finding a positive spin to apply to a scenario that may be stressing you out. By finding an opportunity for, say, skill-building or exploration in a situation that may otherwise be overwhelming, you are flipping the way that you interpret the situation from anxiety to excitement. In doing this, you won’t even let stress into your brain, and no adverse reaction can occur.