When was the last time you were stressed? Last week? Last night? Two minutes ago?
Stress occurs when a type of pressure is exerted on a system. This could be wind patterns that lead to a thunderstorm, a conversation with a complaining customer that leads to frustration, even touching your finger to your skin applies pressure to the system of muscles and cells beneath it.
Stress is just change, though. We always connote it as negative because it often comes with a party favor of anxiety or nervousness and a menu of effects on your body. It is just uncomfortable. But stress is how we survive. Stress tells us that there is a potential threat to which we must respond. Even though it is the most powerful tool for our survival, people still do whatever they can to avoid it or suppress it at all costs.
But what if you could think about it differently such that it became a too for your success?
It turns out that all you need is to shift your mindset about the stress’ purpose. In addition to promoting our survival, psychologists at the Harvard Business Review discussed how “stress hormones actually induce growth and release chemicals into the body that rebuild cells, synthesize proteins and enhance immunity, leaving the body even stronger and healthier than it was before. Researchers call this effect physiological thriving, and any athlete knows its rewards.”
This is like when you are in a high-stress situation such as an athletic competition, lifting weights, or giving a sales pitch presentation and the stress hormones are mixing with adrenaline to amp you up in the moment. The combination hyper-focuses you on the challenge at hand in the moment and this is why some people report to “black out” during a presentation but it turns out that they were perfectly eloquent, sociable, and effective.
One caveat is that stress can only be helpful when indulged in small doses. Stress that is not related to an acute moment in time (like a sales pitch) and stretches throughout a whole day or chronic stress that remains steady for a matter of months is no longer healthy.
This is why the Harvard psychologists also suggest you reflect on your current support system. If a specific thing is causing you abnormally prolonged stress, make sure those to whom you go for support know how to provide the specific relief that you need. Keep in mind, though, that “it is extremely important to work on our relationships during times that we are not stressed, so that when the push comes to shove, we do have those ‘go-to’ friends to listen to us when we think we are about to go off the rails”.
Do not put pressure on yourself to be perfect. Turning something so ancient and innate as a stress response into something healthy and productive takes time. Considering how many things in the world can cause you stress, think about it as practice. Take a deep breath.