Stress: It’s All In Your Beliefs!

Dr. Dan Siegel

Experts such as Dan Siegel say stress is all in your beliefs! It’s your beliefs about stress–not the stress itself– that determines whether an experience has a positive or negative impact on you.
Let’s face it: we live in a world where we can’t avoid stress. Periodic freak-outs are an    inevitable part of responding to life’s challenges.

If we believe that stress is negative, that it makes us feel overwhelmed and frightened, our body responds with fear-based survival behaviors. Our brain believes that we have no resources available to cope with this stress, and goes into fight, flight, freeze or faint mode. We not only experience an Adrenal Stress Response, we create a negative story about this traumatic event, and store it in our Victim File. Yuck!

Siegel says that if we can learn to reframe  our stress by changing our beliefs about a stressful experience, it actually changes the impact that the experience has on the body. In other words, our mind can be harnessed to determine the physical impact of a challenging situation!

Stress is a choice!

The mammalian part of our brain, drives us to connect with others when we need protection and companionship. Because of it, we have the ability to tend & befriend each other during times of stress. This causes our endocrine system to release oxytocin, the bonding hormone, which then activates the social engagement part of our nervous system. So changing our beliefs about stress affects both our brain and our nervous system!

hugging friends copyTaking charge of both our beliefs and our biology are the first two steps in reframing stress from negative fear-anger-sad-helpless reactions to something positive. These steps create an opportunity for us to “make meaning” from stress, to see an experience as “challenging” rather than traumatic. WE DEFINE ITS MEANING!

Dan Siegel’s Me + We = Mwe

Once we learn to master stress by viewing an experience as a challenge rather than as a threat, our whole Being moves into integration and life begins to move in a different direction. How to shift stress from being harmful to helpful? Here are Dan Siegel’s suggestions.

Five Ways to Reframe Stress into a Potential Positive

1. Discover what’s unconsciously creating stress in your life–unresolved trauma from your childhood.
2. Find meaning in and consciously deriving values from difficult situations, which lead to passion and compassion – rather than fear and stress – and improved performance.
3. Examine your own relationship with your body; reinterpret energy in your body from stress to excitement, befriend your bodily response with mindfulness.
4. Reimagine your role with others; tend & befriend by reaching out and connecting with others, resonating and attuning, to access resources for dealing with stressful situations.
5. Think of the self as part of a larger humanity, one of the three parts of self-compassion as defined by Kristin Neff:

  • Be kind and nurturing to yourself
  • Practice mindfulness: “The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Remain part of a larger human journey;

One way to view these three components is not giving up a me for a we, but combining the two as a mwe, the joining of the individual and the larger human context; self can be viewed as a plural verb by becoming aware of the interconnectedness of peoples and planet – rather than a singular noun:  Me + We = Mwe.





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