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Step 1: How we think

Understanding Stress and How to Manage It / Unit 2: Stress and mindset

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Step 1: How we think

In Unit 1, we looked at the impact of stress and anxious thoughts on the brain. We know that when a human’s tolerance for stress is exceeded, the ‘primitive’ parts of the brain, perceiving threat, take control of behavior and thought. This will make an individual:

  • More negative
  • Less able to think innovatively
  • Hyper-critical
  • More likely to be ‘stuck in their ways’
  • More likely to respond in a ‘childish’ or unreasonable/ illogical way
  • Show ‘fight and flight’ stress behaviours.

You might recognise these behaviours in your colleagues or worse, yourself, when under pressure! The good news is that once this process is understood it’s much easier to take action.

A positive mindset

If an accumulation of stress and anxious thoughts trigger the primitive brain into perceiving threat, then conversely, a reduction of stress and anxious thoughts will allow the individual to stay in their ‘logical’ brain, only needing the primitive responses when in danger. One way of actively reducing anxious thought is to make a conscious decision to make thoughts positive by looking for the good in situations.

It is important to remember that some forms of stress can be related to a 10-15-minute period and it is important not to let stressful thoughts, in particular unconscious thought, turn it into a stressful day.

It is important to identify stress as it occurs, and it is a choice that you can control to keep perspective in a stressful situation. It is easy to let negative/stressful thoughts spiral and lead to depressive thoughts or the mind to overrun and make the situation bigger and more stressful than it is.


When we focus on the good things in our lives, our body releases serotonin, which contributes to wellbeing and happiness by regulating mood. Actively seeking the good things in your day increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex of the brain, creating a feeling of happiness and contentment.

A study by Steve Ramirez at the Riken Brain Science Institute found that remembering happy events had the same impact, raised serotonin levels. Conversely, thinking about sad events decreased serotonin production. This research proves the effectiveness of 'the sparkling moment’, a great technique for boosting serotonin and reducing stress.

Activity: The ‘sparkling moment’

Try this visualisation technique. Once you have done it once, practice it over time, so that you become very effective at bringing the image to mind. It’s an effective way of getting a quick serotonin boost if you feel low or overwhelmed. Some say it’s like a mini-holiday!

Remember a really wonderful time in your life. It could be a special day, time spent with a loved one or a visit to a beautiful place. Something that makes you smile. Bring this image into your mind as if on a large tv screen. As you look at it, bring the image forward in your mind. Make the colours more vivid, the sounds sweeter, bringing even the smells and tastes into your mind. Use all the senses, really enjoying it all over again and notice the sense of wellbeing and relaxation that washes over you.

Step 1 question
Serotonin levels can be raised by remembering:
Checkpoint quiz: 
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