Stress is good for you

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Repurpose stress as your superpower


Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Stress wants you to RETHINK its reputation

Generally, we attribute stress to negative things. It’s something to avoid. Something that creates a myriad of health issues.
Stress is bad, stress is the worst.
And let’s not forget how we get stressed out in our pursuit of reducing our stress levels.

It’s time to put our low opinion about stress into perspective.

There is a ton of research that actually shows that short-term stress has positive effects, such as:

  1. Enhancing performance by increasing our brain’s processing speed.
  2. It improves our memory.
  3. Focuses our attention.
  4. Stress facilitates learning and growth by increasing mental toughness.
  5. It helps us to create deeper relationships and trust.
  6. Stress provides us with a better understanding and greater appreciation of life.
  7. It is proven to speed up recovery from injuries and can enhance immunity and physical toughening.

Are you surprised?

Do you know who is to “blame” for the negative effects of our short-term stress? Us!
Because what makes stress bad is how we think about it.

How come that some people perform at their best under pressure while others are paralyzed?

The ones that strive have learned to utilize their stress to push themselves forward. They want to beat the odds. They want to show they can still do it. Their mindset about stress is completely different.

Those who actually get a boost from stress know that moderate levels of stress help them to get toward their goals. Stress increases performance until a certain point. It primes your body and mind to be at your best.
Looking at stress from a different angle helps them to achieve what they set out to do. Let’s learn how it can help us, too.

“Whether you think you can or you can’t either way you are right.” — Henry Ford

Let’s reprogram how we think about stress

  1. What was a period in your life when you experienced significant growth or when you performed extremely well? Typically, these are times with a lot of stress. Acknowledge what you have achieved because of stress.
  2. Do you understand what causes you to feel stressed and what it does to you?
    What is your emotional state under stress? Are you sad, frustrated, or lethargic?
    What do you do differently when you’re stressed? Do you fight more with others? Do you binge-eat on sweets? Do you procrastinate?
    How does your body respond? Does your stomach hurt? Do you have a hard time sleeping?
  3. Do you acknowledge stress? Is it something you are conscious about? As we have a tendency to avoid stress, we might easily brush over it in our everyday lives. It’s important though to understand the signals (as described in point 2) and realize that you feel stressed. That is the first step towards using stress for your benefit.
  4. When you learned to acknowledge feeling stressed, you’re ready to give it a warm welcome. Why would you do that? Because you know it increases your energy to overcome the challenge. Instead of focusing on feeling stressed, you start to concentrate on how to tackle the problem. That causes positive excitement instead of dread.
  5. Did you ever consider getting a deeper understanding of the meaning of your stress?
    Typically, we get stressed because something threatens an underlying want or need. We get stressed at work because ultimately we need to safeguard our livelihood. Everyone needs a home and food.
    We get stressed about family gatherings because we fear the judgment of others. We want to be loved and accepted.
    When we understand these underlying motivations better, we can start to flip our thinking patterns. We can begin to look at the positive goals or values behind the stress. Or we can put it into perspective and weaken it. In turn, this will help us focus on working towards who we want to be and what we want to achieve. That way we get closer to living life in congruency with things we really care about.

Yeah, sounds good in theory — but how do we put it into practice?

It’s simple: Start writing it down. It is the best way to organize our thoughts. And while we do it the part of our brain that is responsible for logic, reason, empathy, and self-control gets to work. That typically causes a much better response than our older animal part of the brain that is responsible for automated responses and our emotions.

So, let’s start an experiment and write about stress:
In the next few days, when you feel stressed, acknowledge the stress and ask yourself:

  • Why am I feeling stressed? What is important to me about this situation? What is my underlying goal or value that gets threatened?
  • What are my typical stress responses (emotional — how do I feel, behavioral — what do I do, physical — how does my body react)?
  • How are my typical stress responses keeping me from going after my underlying goals and values?
  • What do I need to change to improve my chances of reaching my values and goals when I feel stressed? (E.g. take 3 deep breaths to calm your physical response. Remind yourself that the stress means you’re excited about an opportunity and that you’re ready for the challenge.)
  • What will I learn from experiencing stress? What opportunities lie in the stress? (E.g. an argument with a friend is an opportunity to learn more about their needs and wants. A stressful project at work is an opportunity to grow beyond yourself.)

Look at what you have written and decide to utilize the stress. The energy that your body and mind are producing to keep it at bay is actually your personal power boost, the energy to reach your goal.

Old habits die hard. If you really want to crush this, you will need to practice your new way of thinking.

You can do this by:

  1. Scheduling stress check-ins: Set up a routine reminder to check your level of stress. Acknowledge it, when you feel stressed. Welcome it, own it, and think about what you can learn from it. Then use its energy towards reaching what you actually want.
  2. Repurposing your triggers: Through the process, you become more aware of your stress symptoms. Remember, the butterflies in your stomach, speaking fast, eating too much ice cream, laughing hysterically (or whatever yours are)? If you feel any of those, use them to run a stress check-in. Make the stress conscious and choose your response.
  3. Review this article once in a while. It will help you internalize what you learned about the positive sides of stress and how to turn it into your personal superpower.

Let’s work to stress BETTER.

Let me know about your experience with stress in the comments.

And if you’re in need of a calm, minimalist notebook, have a look here.

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