“Stress! Baby you got it! Oh yeah!” (I’m sure there’s some popular tune we could sing that to.)
We all have stress. Every day. And you probably don’t want it.
We’re’ constantly being told that stress should be reduced, eliminated or managed. “Stress kills.” “Stress is harmful.” Blah, blah, blah. We are put under so much pressure to reduce stress that we stress about stress. (Ironic, really.)
You Can Be Liberated
I’m going to tell you something that can liberate you from the stress of stress…
Stress is good.
It can make your life better.
You don’t believe me. I don’t blame you – we’ve all been brainwashed.
I won’t go into the details of how early stress researchers got it horribly wrong. Suffice it to say that modern research has established, rather convincingly, that we are actually built for stress, and that when used properly, stress is a benefit. Consider this:
“A stress response that supported only two survival strategies — throw a punch or run like hell — would truly be a mismatch for modern life. But the full picture of the human stress response turns out to be much more complex. Fleeing and fighting are not the only strategies your body supports…It can activate multiple biological systems, each supporting a different coping strategy. Your stress response won’t just help you get out of a burning buildng; it will also help you engage with challenges, connect with social support, and learn from experience.” ~ Kelly McGonigal, Phd, The Upside of Stress.
You see, your brain is programmed with multiple responses to stress, each response designed to deal with a different type of situation. The brain releases hormones and sends signals to the body to turn off or activate systems that we will need to address the presenting challenge.
How we think about stress determines whether it will be helpful or harmful.
When we see stress as bad we fight against the body’s natural response that is trying to help us. We resist the body’s response rather than address the cause of the response. We act in ways that are counterproductive to solving the challenge or problem. This usually doesn’t turn out so well.
When we see stress as helpful, we allow the body to do what it was designed to do, and take actions that will benefit us. We allow the body to provide us with clarity, focus, energy, confidence, empathy, connection, and more.
Here’s an example. Most of us have heard of a “flow” state, often referred to as being “in the zone.” It happens with elite athletes, performers and other highly trained individuals (it can actually happen with just about anyone, but that’s a topic for another time). Contrary to what many think, these individuals are not in a state of calm. They are in the midst of a stress response that allows them to perform at high levels. They don’t fight the body’s response, because they don’t see it as bad. They embrace it, and they benefit accordingly.
We don’t have to be “in the zone” to benefit from a stress response. We just have to look at stress as something that can help us.
Here’s How to Get Started
Here are 3 simple steps to help you start transforming your mindset about stress (or for you Marvel superhero fans, transform stress from Venom into Spiderman):
- Recognize and acknowledge stress when you feel it. “Yep, there’s my body acting stressed.”
- Welcome the stress response and recognize it for what it is. “Hello stress! Okay, my body is gearing up to help me tackle this challenge.”
- Make use of the energy that stress gives you, instead of wasting that energy trying to manage your stress. Direct it towards taking action, reaching out for connection, and creating some benefit. “Woohoo! Here we go!”
A Final Thought
Yes, there are negative situations that give rise to stress. Yes there are experiences in life that just plain suck. We need to see both the negative and the positive – then choose to focus on the positive.
You can transform stress from Kryptonite into the power to fly (yes, I know I just switched to a D.C. Comics analogy)…if you choose to.
So, give it a shot. Make stress one of your superpowers!