Tag Archives: Beliefs

Use Stress to Your Benefit

I recently watched a Ted Talk by Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, called “How to Make Stress Your Friend.” I always assumed that stress could only be a negative experience, an enemy. Since modern day living is full of stressful events and people, I thought I was doomed to a mostly negative life. Yet, McGonigal’s talk brings up something entirely new for me. Something that will change my view on life and its struggles, for the the better.

In her talk, she brings up the fascinating implications of a study conducted on 30,000 adults in the United Stated over the course of eight years. The researchers asked two simple questions:

How much stress have you experienced in the last year? 
Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?

After the study concluded, the investigators found out that those who encountered a lot of stress had a 43% higher risk of dying (Keller, Litzelman, Wisk, Maddox, Chen, Creswell, & Witt, 2011). However, this finding was only accurate for people who think stress is bad for you.

People who did not think stress was bad for their health, but still experienced a lot of it, had the lowest risk of dying for all people in the study. These folks had a lower chance of dying than people who only had little stress in their lives (McGonigal, 2013).

“People died not from stress, but from the belief that stress is bad for you,” said McGonigal. “Can changing how you think about stress make you healthier? The science says ‘Yes.’ When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress.”

However, the relationship between stress levels and health might not be based on sheer positive thinking. Keller et al. (2011) gave a possible interpretation of their results. People who think stress is bad for you will automatically assume later that they actually do have negative health effects just based on their perceived notions, even if their health hasn’t declined based on the amount of stress in their lives.

The physical changes experienced during stress include increased heart and breathing rates. Breathing is how the body gets oxygen, so wouldn’t it be a “good” thing to be getting more oxygen before a class presentation or other “stressful” event? People can even get increased heart and breathing rates during sex, which generally is seen as an exciting, joyous experience.

This is my body helping me rise to the challengewhen you view stress in that way, your body believes you, and your stress responses becomes healthier,” McGonigal claims.

Not only can people change how their view physical responses, optimism may help our health as well. I came across another study that followed students during their first semester of law school. Students that had a positive outlook gravitated towards having higher lymphocyte (cells that play a strong role in the immune system) counts in the body (Segerstrom, Taylor, Kemeny, & Fahey, 1998).

Research shows that people are not automatically doomed by stress. Your personal relationship to stress is what may dictate whether or not your experience the negative effects from it. Furthermore, there are steps that can be taken to change the response to stress in the moment.

First, acknowledge when stress is present in your life. Don’t force it away, yet. “I am feeling stressed right now because I have to submit this paper” or “Dealing with [insert situation here] is making me feel stressed out.”

Next, observe how your body is reacting. Are you hunched over? Are your shoulders tensing up towards your ears? Is your jaw tightening? What happens when you slowly try to bring your physical body back to neutral? I find that when I force something too quickly, it doesn’t always provide the long-term change I’m looking for. The attitude of “Relax! Relax now!” is stressful and fast-paced in itself. Think about it: if you are already stressed out, would being stressed and angry about your stress make it go away?

People deal with stress in numerous ways. Providing a “fix-all” for every individual is not a solution. I drink herbal tea to help me relax. Yet, there are a good amount of people that can’t stand the taste of earthy leaf water! Wouldn’t really help with relaxation, would it? Here is an excellent website about discovering what solutions work for you in the moment, based on personality, situation, and senses.

Do you see stress as a bad thing?
Do you think stress can be used as a tool?
How do you respond to stress?


Interested in watching the TED talk mentioned?


Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L., Maddox, T., Cheng, E., Creswell, P., & Witt, W. (2011). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health Psychology, 31(5), 677-684. Retrieved August 15, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3374921/

McGonigal, K. (TED). (2013, September 4). How to Make Stress Your Friend (Video File). Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcGyVTAoXEU

Segerstrom, S., Taylor, S., Kemeny, M., & Fahey, J. (1998). Optimism is associated with mood, coping and immune change in response to stress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(6), 1646-1655.



Unifying Contrasting Environmental Ideologies

There are many different beliefs surrounding the relationship between humans and the natural environment.

From the anthropocentric side, “the natural world is merely a storehouse of commodities for humans to use without restraint” (Corbett 2006). On the opposite side of the spectrum, ecocentric or biocentric attitudes state “humans are an interdependent, integral part of the biological world but no more or no less important than other portions of it” (Corbett 2006).  Because of this vast spectrum full of various perspectives, environmentalism can take form in many different ways.

Ideologies are deeply engrained beliefs we hold about something, which in turn influences the way we interact with that something.

In regards to environmental ideology, this means that our relationship with nature in actuality is a reflection of the personal ideals we embrace about it.

At times, different environmental ideologies can have extremely contrasting views.  On one end, some people believe nature has no other worth or value other than to serve and provide indefinitely for humans.  This group also tends to think of nature as a separate entity, and at the root of things, is actually intimidated or scared of Nature. In this belief system, called anthropocentricism, people consider themselves more refined and far superior compared to the rest of nature. Lulz.

Environmental thought then shifts towards conservation and preservation.  These are both still human-centered in a way, but with more respect and awareness towards nature.  Meaning, humans are still better than nature, but nature has resources it can provide for us that are best utilized in a sustainable way.  “We like you, so we are going to use you.”

The difference between conservation and preservation is subtle. Conservation makes every effort to use as wisely as possible what nature has made available for us.  Preservation takes this same concept but also adds that nature can also be treasured in a number of novel angles including ecological, aesthetic and religious expressions (Corbett 2006).

In a preservationist perspective, nature also has a non-utilitarian value.  For instance, we can go for a tranquil stroll within the forest and come back being revitalized.  Preservationists differ from conservationists because the former “continue to tap the powerful feelings and rhetoric of the romantic aesthetic to make their case for preserving the natural world” (Corbett 2006).


“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.
It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
–Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold believed that people have responsibilities in how we interact with nature.  These ethics and values-driven environmental ideologies hold that life has an innate value that goes beyond any utilitarian intention.   Although humans are still considered to be separate from nature, the hierarchical differences aren’t as easy to detect compared to conservation or preservation.

Some modern day applications of ethics and values-driven environmentalism include ecofeminism, environmental racism, and Global South environmentalism.  All three examples comprise of a socio-interdisciplinary aspect in analyzing environmental issues.

Ecofeminism is the embodiment of the parallels between feminism and environmentalism.  Cole and Foster claim that “A focus of ‘women’ reveals important features of interconnected systems of human domination.”  To elaborate, the history of male-dominated cultures and ideologies can be compared to the constant disrespect and exploitation of nature from civilizations worldwide.

Environmental racism focuses on the social injustices that also result from environmental issues.  For example, “more toxic waste plants are built in communities of color, lead paint poisoning is more common among children of color, and the most dangerous uranium mining is done of Native American lands (Cole and Foster).”  In the video ‘The Economic Injustice of Plastics”, Van Jones points out how underprivileged people suffer from everybody’s choices. The burning of some plastics is done in poor, developing countries; the people living in this lone region suffer the costs of decisions made by others around the world.

This is very similar to Global South environmentalist beliefs, which state that the exploitation of ‘less-developed’ countries by the ‘over-developed’ counties can, at times, lead to environmental problems.

Environmental ideologies have a wide range of beliefs ranging from the utilitarian anthropocentric views all the way the all-encompassing biocentric values.

Finding the middle ground between these two extremes can be tough, seeing that not everybody is willing give something up to compromise. Although this is a challenge, it’s just a hurdle on the path to unity. The path where all humans acknowledge their humble place in Nature.


Communicating Nature by Julia Corbett

From the Ground Up by Cole and Foster

Photos:  Jordan Pletzer

The Way Towards Environmental Harmony

The attitudes and beliefs we have about the environment are shaped by both internal and external factors.

According to Julia Corbett, there are  three major influences on our environmental beliefs:  childhood experiences, a sense of place, and historical or cultural contexts.

“Even decades ago, psychologists knew that children’s experiences with nature had crucial and irreplaceable effects on their physical, cognitive, and emotional development…Earlier forms of a child’s knowledge are not lost as the child developed but are embedded, reworked, and transformed into more comprehensive ways of understanding the natural world and acting upon it.”

Taken from Communicating Nature, these statements bring up how influential our childhood experiences impact our lives further down the road.

What are kids truly learning and being exposed to?  While growing up, people take what they have previously been shown by the world and mold it into their own perception of reality.

As we grow up, our time spent directly with nature decreases remarkably. Our sidewalks around campus and downtown are mindfully decorated with trees and flower pots, but how much does this make up for the lack of true contact with nature and the endemic way life has evolved in this special region?

Most of the time, the way we interact with “nature” is almost completely vicarious, such as watching the annual Shark Week.  Watching a ratings-driven nature documentary is only symbolic of actually going out on a boat, miles away from the sight of shore and seeing a great white in person. Nothing can truthfully stand in for seeing a ginormous shark except that experience alone, but not everyone lives near the coast or has access to a boat. However, a week filled with watching nature documentaries sitting on your bum in a climate-controlled living room could never take the place of the raw experience of being out with nature itself, whatever the occasion is.

The majority of people living in the United States reside in cities.  The sight of an open meadow, an untouched mountainside, or rolling hills of green, untouched land are scarce for this huge group of people.  Corbett writes, “Your perceptions and evaluations of the environment in those places are expressions of place-based self-identity.”

Our personal beliefs and attitudes predict how we interact with the environmental.  Imagine traveling just north of Flagstaff on the 180 past Snow Bowl Road and turning onto an unpaved, barely marked forest road.  To an outdoor lover, this could be a new spot to go camp for the night, following the moral code of “Leave No Trace.”  A couple hours after sunrise the next morning, the only evidence would be footprints and a residual human smell.  Now, what if a few teenage boys came up from Phoenix for a weekend camping trip?  The same location might have some beer cans, food wrappers, or even broken glass and other trash littered around.  The way each of these two groups of people interacted with their environment is an example of “place-based-self-identify”.

From the beginning of European settlement in North America, nature was seen as an obstacle.  Corbett states, “Many settlers believed it was their Christian duty to impose control, civilize, tame, subdue, and in essence, denature nature.”  These early Americans had no remorse for nature on their westward journey.  Historically, forests were there only waiting to be chopped down for wood.  Nature was widely perceived to be a resource storehouse .

Our environmental beliefs and attitudes are influenced largely by our personal experiences growing up, our self-identity and how we perceive nature, and by the circumstances we are in now based on how we historically lived with nature.  These predisposed beliefs have an effect on environmental issues we currently face surrounding the use and abuse of plastic and water.

We need to start becoming aware of how our actions effect the environment, even if this wasn’t what we and our parents were traditionally raised to be mindful of. We are the future.

Communicating Nature by Julia Corbett (2006).