In last month’s blog post/newsletter, we talked about the advantages of stress and how it makes you stronger so you aren’t like a droopy tree in Biosphere 2. I promised at the end of that article that I’d share with you more about the stress mindset.
You’ve probably heard or read the studies on stress, right? Stress is a “growing plague.” It has been linked to the six leading causes of death as well as depression, cognitive impairment, drug abuse, aggression, relational conflict and mental illness. That sounds horrible!! Stress is the devil!
In the words of ESPN’s Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend.” Recent studies have shown that BELIEVING that stress is bad is the true problem.
What do you believe about stress?
When your heart is racing and pounding in your chest, your breathing gets faster, and maybe you are even breaking out in a sweat, how do you look at this? Is it good? Is it bad? What do you believe about the physiological aspects of stress? Normally, we interpret these changes in physiology as signs that we are NOT coping very well with the situation… that there is something wrong with us… that we can’t handle the pressure.
What if none of those beliefs were true?
What if I told you that those reactions were actually good – that those reactions were signs of excitement, and that your body is producing energy that is going to help you rise to the challenge – that the stress and physiological response is your body producing the energy to be bold and courageous. What if instead of a “stress-is-harmful” mindset, I told you that stress is helpful? Would you believe me?
The History of Stress
In our not-so-distant past, about 500 years ago, we lived in an immediate response environment. When we heard rustling in the bushes, our reptilian brain immediately recognized the possible threat so we slipped into a fight, flight, or freeze mode and the threat and stress was alleviated in a few minutes. One thousand years ago, we heard the rumbling of thunder off in the distance. It caused stress. We ran for shelter. The storm passed and the stress was gone as well. In these cases, the stress response was viewed as a good thing. It saved our lives and kept us safe from physical harm.
In recent human history, however, that immediate response environment has changed. We’re now in a delayed response environment. The stress event happens, like losing your job, and the relief may be weeks, months or even years away.
Until recent human history, stress was a good thing! It gave us the energy to react and respond to our surroundings so that we could survive and thrive. By the way… if stress were so bad, why do we watch horror films or go to amusement parks? The X Games wouldn’t exist if stress were harmful because trying to do those wacky stunts initiates the stress response.
The Science of Stress
In the research study done at Yale University and titled “Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response.” Crum, Salovey, and Achor concluded:
“For many years, the spotlight has been on stress’s negative aspects, including detrimental health effects, loss of productivity, and depression. This interpretation may be well intended, but the result of such perspective may be counter-effective. The findings of these studies indicate that people can be primed to adopt a stress-is-enhancing mindset, which can have positive consequences relating to improved health and work performance. This does not mean that people should seek out more stress. But, it does mean is that people may not need to focus single-mindedly on reducing their stress. The message of this research is ultimately a positive one: eliciting the enhancing aspects of stress (as opposed to merely preventing the debilitating ones) may be, in part, a matter of changing one’s mindset.”
We actually know from the science that those having more anxiety are probably going to perform better than people who have no anxiety. We know that that the adrenaline you’re feeling that’s causing your pounding heart and increased breath is literally energy being made available to you. Your body is basically going into peak performance mode for you!
What can you do about it?
All you have to do is make a tiny shift in how you view stress. Kelly McGonigal in her TED talk says, “You can’t always control what happens in life and what’s going on in the world, just like you can’t always control your heart rate. You can’t always control the hormones that are flooding your body or the neurotransmitters that are coursing through your brain. But you can surrender to the reality of that.“
Did you catch that? What is the one thing that we can do to improve our mindset about stress (and become better at handling it)?
The one thing that is required is to
make this mental shift is to STOP fighting it.
Recognize what your body is doing. This is just the human experience of a flood of energy. Stop fighting it!! Sure, it doesn’t always feel amazing. But, what if you didn’t have this flood of energy? You couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to be your best.
One of the simplest beliefs or thoughts that you can have around your challenges is to respond with “I believe in my ability to figure this out.” If you’d like something shorter: “I can handle this.“
Surrender to the reality. Accept it. Don’t try to FIX it. It isn’t broken. Figure out how to use it. What is something that you can think about and then do in this moment that will allow you to use this energy in a way that produces value in your life and others?
Remember the TEAR Model:
Your THOUGHTS produce your EMOTIONS.
Your Emotions produce the energy needed to take ACTION.
Your Actions lead to your RESULTS.
Focus on the only thing that you can truly control in your life. Focus on your thinking and your mindset about stress.
One more thought…
Have you heard of Oxytocin, the ‘cuddle hormone?’ It got a lot of press in the past as being a wonderful hormone. This hormone is actually a stress response hormone just like adrenaline and cortisol and epinephrine.
Why do you think our body produces this as a response to stress? I believe that it is what makes us human. When we’re stressed, this hormone nudges us to reach out and ask for help, to connect with other human beings and seek support. It also allows you to notice when someone else is struggling and nudges you to reach out and support them.
Imagine what would happen if you just stopped fighting the stress response.
On September 25, 2019, I’m going to be participating in a program called “Responsibility Immersion.” It is going to be amazing!!
I’d love for you to join me on this 20-week journey.
Oh, I’m not teaching this course, I’m a student!
This program will help me (and you) generate your own mental Freedom, Choice, and Power at will so you can become bigger than your problems and handle them with confidence, boldness
If you’re looking to take your leadership to the next level – you won’t want to miss this!