Numerous books and lectures refer to managing stress and even on how to get rid of it. Stress has been a topic of concern for as long as I can remember and most likely the discussion won’t go away.
There is growing evidence that a meaningful, fulfilled life is not free of stress. Everyone wants a meaningful and fulfilled life, but no one wants the stress associated with it.
According to Robert Ostermann, retired professor of psychology at Fairleigh-Dickinson University,
No one reaches peak performance without being stressed, whether an athlete, an office worker or a manager.
Stress refers to the body’s way of responding to any kind of demand. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. When we feel stressed by something going on around us, our bodies react by releasing chemicals into the blood.
These chemicals give us more energy and strength, which can be a good thing if the stress is caused by physical danger. But this can also be a bad thing, if the stress is in response to something emotional and there is no outlet for this extra energy and strength.
Accordingly we are left to manage it.
When we have to manage or cope it signals our brain that something is wrong. The brain doesn’t always see things “as is” and is subject to many biases. Therefore it creates its own reality.
By thinking undesirably about this subject, we see stress through the lens of our judgement. We judge all stress as bad and harmful. This trains our brain to believe stress experiences can bring on serious illnesses that can even lead to death.
Surprisingly, stress is not always bad for us. It can stimulate creativity and productivity.
More evidence has determined it is not the stress that kills! But rather how we “think” about the stress is what throws the mortal blow.
So what do we do?
We can outsmart stress instead of trying to manage it. How is this possible? The key is to challenge the way we think about stress. We can become better at the experience itself by putting the brain and body in an ideal position to perform.
We must be smart at adopting a positive stress mindset and think of stressors as the body’s cue to rise to the challenge at hand.
Rather than being a sign that something is wrong, feeling stress can be a indicator of how engaged we are in meaningful activities and relationships.
A Stanford study conducted by Psychologist Alia Crum has also determined that people who think about stress as enhancing are less depressed and more satisfied with their lives than those who believe stress is harmful. They also have more energy and fewer health problems and are happier and more productive at work.
Choosing to see the positive side of stress is not about denying that stress can be harmful. It is however about helping us to balance our mindset and lessen the brunt of overwhelm and despair about potentially having a stressful life.
In my Outsmarting Stress training program I teach three basic steps to assist with positively and purposefully releasing the emotional energy and strength caused by stress. Here’s an overview:
1. Prepare Yourself.
a. Rethink your short-term stress response indicators. See them as ‘helpful signals’ to spur your performance. In her TEDx talk, health psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonigal reported evidence on when you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress.
b. The next time you get into a challenging situation, instead of defaulting to the negative, shift to the positive. Barbara Frederickson has hypothesized that positive emotions have a broadening effect that expands our thinking that can build new ideas and access creative, flexible and unpredictable ways of thinking and acting.
c. We need a 3 to 1 positive to out-do the negative. Intentionally fix your thoughts on whatever is true, honorable and right, pure, lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and praise worthy.
2. Reposition Yourself
a. Learn how to flip the process. When stress is processed in the limbic system of your brain, you go into a reactive, fighting and emotional mode. By repositioning to understand your stress, the brain flips its process to the prefrontal cortex, or rather the part of the brain which allows you to pause and evaluate your options so you can intentionally decide how to respond to the stress.
b. The next time you get into a challenging situation, reach out to someone either to get support or to support them. Talk things over with a trusted friend who will steer you to put things into perspective.
c. Your stress response has a built-in stress mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connections.
3. Trust Yourself
a. View stressful situations as a challenge and not an overwhelming problem.
b. Have greater confidence in your ability to outsmart those challenges and look for meaning in difficult circumstances.
c. Adopt a different relationship to the stress. View stress as an opportunity to learn and grow. Engage in roles that nourish your sense of purpose. Use your stress to be your best.
Stress management isn’t enough. The next time you get into a challenging situation, remember how you think and how you act can transform your experience of stress. When you face stress head-on and choose to see your stress response as helpful, you build courage and resources for intentionally dealing with the experience. And when you choose to connect with others while under stress, you create resilience.
Journal your experiences and share them with us by leaving a comment, or sending me an email at wecare@DeanaMurphyGlobal.com.
The Outsmarting Stress Training
Bring this full Outsmarting Stress training to your for-profit or social-sector organization. We delve widely and deeply into these three steps. Participants will engage exercises and creative ways to practice stress, reset the stress mindset, explore different perspectives on stress, examine how stress relates to meaning, acquire cognitive tools for dumping worries, build stress-resilience and activate their built-in stress-response hormone.
This fun and interactive training concludes with creating a Stress Plan to help you see stress experiences as something to use to help performance, to help you connect, and to help you thrive.
When managers and leaders invest in employees’ wellbeing, they are likely to influence organizational growth in the process. This adds up to a more efficient and higher performing organization.