Two Ways To Make Stress Good For You

May 4, 2016 | Stress

Stress isn’t all bad

It’s not “all good,” but it’s not all bad either.

Here’s what you can do to help make stress work for you.

Your relationship to stress

Does the thought of being stressed stress you out?

When you notice signs of stress – butterflies, a rapid heart beat, sweat – do you think:

“Uh-oh, I’m stressed. I shouldn’t be.

This isn’t good.

Stress isn’t healthy.

Stress is going to make this worse…”

True, stress can have many negative effects… but not always. Sometimes stress can be a good thing.

And how you think of stress can have a lot to do with it.

Bad stress, good stress

We all know that too much stress, especially longterm stress, can have all kinds of negative effects on the health of our bodies and minds.

Even short-term stress can affect our hormones and cause us to react in a negative way, similar to anger.

However, stress can also be good.

Stress can raise the level of your performance.

The body’s stress response, derived from a primitive method of survival also called the flight-or-flight response, prepares the body to quickly react in a threatening situation. It is a physical and mental burst of energy, causing heightened alert and increased blood flow to help the body and brain respond.

This physical reaction to stress enables us to better act in a stressful situation and is sometimes referred to as adaptive stress.

Making stress good

The best news here is that you can help to keep stress from being bad. You have the power to make short-term stress good for you in two ways.

#1: Recovery Time

Although acute stress causes the body to produce free radicals and hormones like cortisol that can be harmful, this in turn causes the body to work to repair itself to neutralize the effects, and this repair process is a good thing.

It’s like having kids run through your house and make a mess. Afterwards, you’re going to need to sweep up, or it will only get messier and harder to clear later.

Some neuroscientists actually believe that short-term bouts of stress can help us age better because it keeps the body’s repair system more active.

So the ability to clean up or repair after acute stress is key. This happens when we make the time and space to recover through allowing the body and mind some relaxation and healthy downtime. Otherwise build-up happens.

#2: Positive Belief

Often in coaching, we work on addressing a particular perspective or negative belief about a situation. The same can be applied to one’s belief on short-term stress.

One of my favorite Shakespeare quotes is: “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” (Hamlet.)

And this can be true for short-term stress. That is, believing that your stress is good because it will help you adapt better in a situation can actually help to make it so.

In one study, college students who were coached to believe that feeling nervous or excited before a performance would improve their performance were shown to have a better physiological response to a stressful performance than those who were not coached.

Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal talks about another similar stress study in her popular TEDTalk. In this study, 30,000 people were asked about their stress and their beliefs about their stress, and then they were tracked for eight years. What the study found is pretty amazing: the people who experienced stress had a 43% increase in dying but only if they also believed the stress was harmful to their health.

So it wasn’t so much the stress that killed them, but their stress about the stress!

When you change your mind about stress, you can change how your body responds to it.

Pass it on

Just think: we have the power to change how stress affects us! Pretty cool.

If you know someone who’s stressed about their stress, share the good news and pass on this post via one of the icons below!

Photo: “sweep” by donger at flickr.com, CC BY 2.0.

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Jen Riggs Blog

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Jennifer is the creator of Pathways to Change, a framework for mindful leadership development that integrates coaching, neuroscience, mindfulness and mind-body principles.

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