This holiday season, address your stress

A national survey found nearly two-thirds of respondents felt somewhat or very stressed this time of year.
A national survey found nearly two-thirds of respondents felt somewhat or very stressed this time of year. Bloomberg

If the holiday season has you feeling stressed, you’re far from alone. A national survey by Healthline, found that nearly two-thirds of respondents reported feeling somewhat or very stressed this time of year.

Finances led their list of worries, followed by trying to eat healthy and exercise, picking out gifts, and juggling hectic schedules with family and friends.

Conventional wisdom says stress is an unavoidable part of life, and we just have to accept it.

But two new books by authors with North Carolina ties are turning that notion on its head – and providing inspiration for positive change as we head toward the New Year.

Nick Petrie, a senior faculty member at the Greensboro-based Center for Creative Leadership (where Christopher and Stephen are both affiliated), is the co-author of “Work Without Stress: Building a Resilient Mindset for Lasting Success.”Petrie and Derek Roger, a psychologist from the United Kingdom, make the case that “stress isn’t something you have to learn to live with. You can be completely free of it.”

Their provocative book, released last month by McGraw-Hill, distinguishes between pressure and stress.

They define pressure as a “demand to perform,” which is not inherently stress-inducing.

The stress actually comes from rumination – or becoming emotionally fixated on things that have already happened and can’t be changed or on things that have not yet happened.

“You’re not genetically programmed to ruminate. It’s a habit you’ve developed and cultivated for years,” write Petrie and Roger.

They propose four mental habits that can reduce stress: 1) Wake up – focus on the present rather than the past or future; 2) Control your attention – train your mind to focus consciously; 3) Detach – give yourself space to maintain perspective on events; and 4) Let go – don’t continue to ruminate.

Ski Chilton, a North Carolina native and professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, takes a like-minded approach in “The Rewired Brain: Free Yourself of Negative Behaviors and Release Your Best Self,” published in August by Baker Books.

Chilton, like Petrie, is a cancer survivor who knows a thing or two about daunting challenges.

He is on a mission to help people understand that they have much more control over their thoughts and behaviors than they might realize – and that fulfillment starts with learning how to harness them.

Our mind, he writes on his blog, is “where we either become and stay imprisoned in unhappiness or discover and live in freedom.”

A professor of physiology and pharmacology, Chilton blends scientific and spiritual principle in exploring the brain and the habits and behaviors that we too quickly write off as unchangeable.

He offers a guide for reversing course, with a focus on the self-destructive role that fear plays in our lives and a roadmap for reframing negative experiences, that will resonate especially well with people of faith.

Other resources for addressing stress abound across the state. The Charlotte Center for Mindfulness offers courses on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a technique pioneered in Massachusetts the late 1970s.

MBSR uses a combination of meditation and yoga that has been shown to foster lasting improvements both physically and psychologically.

In the Triangle, Duke Integrative Medicine is a prominent provider of MBSR.

Here’s another fact worth considering: research from N.C. State shows that the more positive older adults are about aging, the greater their resilience in stressful times.

It’s yet another reminder of what Petrie and Chilton are preaching – stress is linked fundamentally to the stories we tell ourselves and the behaviors they drive.

Christopher Gergen is CEO of Forward Impact, a fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Duke University. Stephen Martin is deputy chief of staff at the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro. They can be reached at and followed on Twitter through @cgergen.