What are the upsides of stress? How to manage stress for positive results.
How often do you feel stressed? Your heart pounds. Your palms sweat. Your stomach is in knots. You can’t sleep.
Stress gets a bad rap. We’re often told to avoid stressful situations if we want a happier and healthier life.
But what if stress is only bad for you if you believe that to be true? What if you could actually benefit from stress, simply by thinking about it differently?
This is 100% possible according to Dr Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist and author of The Upside of Stress.
In fact, changing your mind about stress can make you happier, healthier and mentally stronger.
So, how do you flip your thinking and start seeing stress as a positive? Follow these steps:
Reframe how you think about stress
To reframe how you think about stress, you must first define it. We’ve all been in stressful situations. Maybe you’ve taken on too many projects with tight deadlines, are struggling to juggle different priorities, or are finding it tough to settle into a new job.
But when we talk about “stress”, what do we mean?
We love this definition by Dr Kelly McGonigal:
“Stress is what happens in your brain and your body when something you care about is at stake.”
In other words, stress is our body’s natural way of responding to demanding circumstances. It’s a programmed neurobiological response.
Regardless of whether you feel stressed about positive or negative events, what the stress is telling you is the degree to which these things are important to you.
If you’re only seeing stress as negative, you can quickly start catastrophizing about it, which leads to that feeling of overwhelm and a fight, flight or freeze response.
But if you can think of stress as something temporary, something you’ve been able to successfully overcome before, stress doesn’t feel so negative. Something happens to your body – it reduces inflammation, cortisol levels and your cardiovascular response, which lets you actually harness the energy in a positive way, rather than seeing it as a barrier.
Count the unexpected benefits of stress
There are some unexpected upsides to experiencing a little bit of stress.
Stress enhances motivation.
While heightened stress can feel overwhelming and cause your motivation to drop, medium levels can kickstart your work. Think about when you have the stress of a deadline. It can actually help you focus and pay more attention because time is running out.
Stress can build resilience and encourage growth.
Stress can force you into problem-solving mode, which ultimately builds confidence and skills essential for success.
Stress helps you work through experiences.
Using stress to face your fears or challenges helps you work through them, so you can build resilience and feel more equipped to handle similar experiences in the future.
Find your Goldilocks level of stress
How much stress is good for you? According to psychologists, ideally, you want to find a moderate level of stress that leads to peak performance. Too little stress, and you might feel less motivated and challenged. Too much stress, and you might feel overwhelmed, unsettled or anxious.
But under moderate stress, you can feel more energised, both physically and psychologically.
The trick is to work out the right level for you – only you will know how much is too much.
Here’s an important point. We’re talking about short-term stress here. Chronic stress isn’t something you should try to embrace. A bit of stress is fine from time to time, but it shouldn’t be ongoing. Aim to give yourself breaks in between stressful events and situations, and use mindfulness techniques to stay calm.
Turn nerves into excitement
Ever seen a pro sports team getting ready for a game? Or an athlete getting ready to compete? They harness the nervous jitters and turn them into excitement. They pump themselves up and go out motivated and ready to give it their best shot.
This is something you can do too. Tune into the physical symptoms of stress, whether that’s sweaty palms or a pounding heart, and recognise them as signs that your body is getting ready to rise to the challenge.
Then, try to embrace this energy. Think of it as excitement, not stress. This is proven to help people do better and feel more confident.
Use stress as an opportunity to connect with others
Everyone gets stressed now and again – even your super chill friend who never seems to get flustered (we all have one!).
It’s really helpful to look at whatever you’re going through as part of life, rather than something that’s happening only to you. It’s simply part of what it means to have a challenging career, to get a degree or work hard for your goals. You’re not alone in this.
Talking to close friends and family about your experience will not only provide you with helpful advice, but also help you build and strengthen relationships. Some of the strongest friendships are made when you support each other through the tougher times.
Think about how you can learn from stress
How can this stressful situation be your growth opportunity? Maybe you took on too much work which meant you missed some deadlines and let people down. Rather than beat yourself up over it, spend a minute thinking about what you can learn from the situation. Studies show this can generate hope, joy, and self-forgiveness – all of which give you the resilience to bounce back.
Focus on what strengths you bring to the situation
According to Dr McGonigal, a common misconception is that stress turns us into the worst versions of ourselves.
But by reframing how you think about and manage stress, you can switch from a self-destructive or withdrawn tendency into more positive, productive actions. Use the opportunity to remind yourself of your strengths and put them to work.
Remember, you’re the driver
Stress is a natural human emotion. Rather than letting it get you down, use your power to reframe stress into a positive experience – one that ultimately helps you become more resilient and primed to thrive!
Download Hodie to learn how to manage stress, build resilience and start bouncing back.