Stress is bad, right?
Actually, no. Despite all the dire warnings you've heard, not all stress is bad for your health or your productivity. In fact, a little stress can boost performance. And science shows that how you think about stress has a huge impact on how it affects you.
Stress, then, is sort of like a powerful drug--it's all about dosing. Not too little, not too much. So how can you avoid short-term stress overdoses or long-term stress addiction? The blog of startup Crew recently offered several great suggestions.
"When our brains feel stressed, they release a chemical called noradrenaline," it explains. "We don't function too well with too much or too little of this chemical, but, according to Ian Robertson, a cognitive neuroscientist at Trinity College, Dublin, and author of the upcoming book The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper: 'There's a sweet spot in the middle where if you have just the right amount, the goldilocks zone of noradrenaline, that acts like the best brain-tuner.'"
Crew offers these tips to help you stay in the "goldilocks zone."
As I've explained in previous posts, stress is very dependent on your attitude. Expect the physical feeling of stress to make you freeze and panic, and you probably will. But view your body's excitement as an appropriate preparation for a challenge, and stress can be transformed into a performance enhancer.
"Studies have found that when people are put in stressful situations such as public speaking or singing karaoke, telling yourself to calm down can actually backfire. Instead, those who reframe the situation as exciting and ride the wave of stress are better equipped to handle it," says Crew.
So next time your palms are sweating before a big presentation, don't tell yourself, "I'm stressed. I'm going to choke." Tell yourself, "I'm amped up to perform at my best."
2. Make new ski tracks.
What does skiing have to do with stress? Our thoughts work like a ski slope. Every time you think something, it leaves a "track" in your brain, making it easier to have the same thought again. Which is why complaining is so toxic, and gratitude so healthy, and also why stressing out is a self-reinforcing cycle.
For this reason, "rather than letting your negative self-doubt run wild, you need to recognize when you're going down this negative path and stop yourself," Crew says.
How? "Writer Elizabeth Bernstein suggests we write down our thoughts and identify what specifically triggered them.... Get those thoughts out of your head and on paper, and then toss on your lab coat. Challenge your assumptions as a scientist would challenge a hypothesis."
3. Fight fatalism.
Stress can seem like a bolt out of the blue that you have no control over--one minute you're standing there calmly reviewing your notes for the big speech, the next you're drenched in sweat and apparently suffering from short-term amnesia. But if you want to use stress to your advantage, you have to flip this script. Don't think of stress as something that controls you, but as something you can control and use.
"Think about comedians or performers who worry if they don't feel that 'edge' of anxiety before a performance. Or Tiger Woods, who said if he doesn't feel anxious before a match, he knows he's going to do badly. With the right mindset, stress can be a performance enhancer," says Crew.