Think of a time when you were faced with something challenging, intense, or intimidating and when game time came around, your adrenaline kicked in, everything became clearer & you pushed through your fear and used it to think faster and perform better. THAT’s your stress response working FOR you!
Our stress response is our body’s evolutionary way of dealing with a challenge or danger. It’s our hidden weapon that automatically takes over to help us thrive & survive.
While the negative effects of stress can severely impact our quality of life and the effects of chronic stress can even be deadly, the truth is, some level of stress is unavoidable. Even pleasant events like marriage, having children or starting a new job can cause it. Resisting the inevitable is like swimming against the current. The trick with stress is learning how to navigate it, instead of trying to resist against it.
Here’s how you flip the script on stress;
1. REFRAME YOUR PERSPECTIVE TO CHANGE YOUR RESPONSE
When you view stressful situations as threats and assume that you don’t have what it takes to cope and that it will inevitably end in failure, chances are you will have a stronger negative reaction that can lead to physical or mental manifestations of stress.
Stress itself doesn’t cause failure, but having a defeatist or fixed mindset behind it does. There is absolutely NOTHING to be gained from limiting beliefs.
Mindset has the power to make or break you, it has the power to adjust your perception, which will then affect how you respond, which will then affect the way stress will impact you mentally & physically.
When you take on challenging or stressful situations with a growth mindset, they become an opportunity to learn, grow and to build resilience & grit, instead of a hurdle preventing you from moving forward.
2. TAP INTO THE POSITIVE IMPACTS OF STRESS.
Stress gets a bad rap because of the negative effects it can have when left unmanaged, but nobody really talks about how some stress can act as a positive force.
- Motivation. Without the discomfort stirred up by stress pushing us to take action, most people wouldn’t be as inclined to push their limits & leave that safe & cozy comfort zone to change, achieve or get something done.
- Building Resilience. Every time you experience & overcome stressors (even small ones) your brain builds resilience to be better equipped for future events. It prepares you bit by bit to learn how to move forward when the going gets tough, so instead of running away from it, engage with it with the knowledge that its purpose is to help you.
- Improved Mental Performance. Acute stress has been proven to have positive effects on our cognitive mental performance as a result of our senses sharpening during stressful moments. Your body reacts to stress by releasing hormones that raise adrenaline & make your brain more alert to protect itself & help you handle the situation that’s causing stress.
3. IDENTIFY WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL & ACCEPT WHAT YOU CAN’T
One of the main causes of stress is resistance to the things that are outside of our control. The best thing you can do for yourself when it comes to stressful situations is to identify the things you CAN control versus those you CAN’T.
Accepting the things that cannot be changed will allow you to focus your time & energy on those that can & will help you think more clearly towards a realistic plan of action.
It will also allow you to see where you can take action & find solutions instead of feeling powerless and stewing in negativity, which has zero benefits to your well being or resolving the situation. Simply stressing and worrying WILL NOT fix anything.
4. CHOOSE YOUR RESPONSE
We can’t control every situation, or other people, the only thing we can control is how WE respond, and how we respond is a choice. When you start to sense those familiar feelings of stress bubbling up, take a minute to stop & observe your negative thoughts and make a point to replace them with positive ones. (a very simple example is to stop allowing yourself to assume you can’t do something & replace that thought telling yourself that you will do your best & you will learn).
Remind yourself to CHOOSE a positive growth mindset & respond accordingly, take the challenge, do your best & use it as a chance to level up. The more you do this consistently & intentionally, it will train your brain to make this an automatic response and it will get easier over time.
5. LOOK AT THE FACTS.
We’re quick to paint stress as an external enemy and ourselves as its innocent powerless victim, but keep in mind that while external factors may certainly act as a trigger, it doesn’t mean that they’re also the cause.
Our perception of a situation can sometimes cause the stress or fuel it. Becoming familiar with your triggers as well as your behavior patterns when you’re stressed will help you gain perspective and differentiate if the stress really does come from an external source OR an internal one. Are you the one putting the added pressure on yourself unnecessarily through perfectionism or assumptions?
When a stressful situation comes up, stop & ask yourself if your response is based on facts & the present situation or is it being caused by a past experience or your perception of the future outcome?
6. STOP PUTTING YOURSELF AT A DISADVANTAGE.
Stop ignoring the basic things that we humans (even you!) NEED in order to function properly and cope with normal daily life & even more so to cope with stress. By ignoring these to try to always do more, you’re putting yourself and your body at a significant disadvantage & being counterproductive.
Just because something is simple, it DOESN’T mean it’s not powerful. You should avoid:
- Stretching yourself too thin & taking on too much (Learn to say no!)
- Neglecting your Nutrition (Healthy diets provide energy, alertness, mood regulation, fight disease).
- Not getting enough sleep (Proper sleep affects mood, focus, health, Brain sharpness)
- Neglecting physical activity (Exercise is a mood elevator, stress reducer, improves energy & brain function)
- Not Taking time to rest & recharge. (You won’t be useful to anyone, including yourself, when you’re running on empty & you certainly won’t be able to enjoy yourself. Repeat after me rest is productive & necessary)
7. DON’T LABEL YOURSELF
There is a distinct difference between saying I’m stressed & saying I feel stressed. One is identifying how you feel and the other is stating how you see yourself as a person, something that is part of your identity which will in turn affect how you see and cope with life overall, so don’t limit yourself with labels.
Putting it all together
Stress is nothing new, it’s ancient dating back to our humble beginnings on the evolutionary timeline, & there’s a reason it stuck with us, because it’s effective!
While modern life has certainly complicated it, stress is intended to be a helpful survival tool. By taking control over your perspective, mindset and reactions you can harness it to get you ahead instead of having it hold you down.
Stress can show you where you can improve & shed light on what is truly important, you just have to open yourself up to see it.
When you confront it and see it as something that can add value to your life, it opens up the door for you to use it to help you rise to the occasion by expanding your level of knowledge, trying something new, thinking outside the box, be more resourceful, look for different solutions and build the resilience and grit to cope with and move beyond difficulties & failures.
Growth is ALWAYS uncomfortable and the only way to learn and advance is by challenging yourself. Next time you feel stress coming on, don’t run away from it. Face it, observe it and use it to learn about yourself so that you can CHOOSE your response & manage your stress so that it doesn’t become chronic & a danger to your well being.
You don’t need to do this alone! It can be helpful to talk to someone you trust or to speak with a coach who can help you see your blind spots, provide you with more tools or just offer a different perspective.
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