1 Simple Trick to Power Up Stress for Better Performance, Better Life
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How Stressed Are We?
A 2022 APA poll found that almost 90% of American adults feel “like there has been a constant stream of crises without a break over the last two years…now reaching unprecedented levels of stress that will challenge our ability to cope.”
But not all stress is bad, and sometimes thinking that stress is bad can actually make it so.
In other words, stress is not just an unwanted effect. The demonization of stress can be a cause of stress itself.
It’s like what they say about insomnia. That is, it is bad enough to not be able to sleep, but Sleep Anxiety (anxiety that you won’t sleep, and/or anxiety that you didn’t sleep) is a pile on that just makes the insomnia even worse.
Same goes for stress. It is one thing to feel it, and quite another to feel stressed about feeling stressed.
So Wait, What is It?
Stress is how we react when we feel under pressure or threatened. It usually happens when we are in a situation that we don’t feel we can manage or control.
To be sure, there are plenty of problems when it is a chronic condition, which is what happens when it is in charge of us instead of us in charge of it:
Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
But what if we could not only lessen the impact, but convert some of it altogether into something good?
How to Lessen Stress
I have written before on a variety of ways that we can lessen the adverse impact of stress. For some examples:
Not all executives sleep like an executive and, besides, Hougaard and Carter say it is a trainable skill for everyone, executive or not. So here are some of their tips:
- “Catch the melatonin wave.” The window of opportunity for an easy sleep is when you start to feel drowsy around 10–11pm.
- “Avoid Screens.” Come on, you know that. Cut it out.
- “Enjoy only perceptual activities 60 minutes before bed.” Not activities that require conceptual thinking like intense conversations. They did not mention the other thing you might be wondering about. I would imagine whether it is perceptual or conceptual depends on how you go about it.
- “Avoid eating two hours before bed.” What? Yeh, I’m sorry, activates blood and sugar flow, keeps us alert and awake. That’s what they said.
- “Practice five minutes of mindfulness when you go to bed.” Of course.
One study showed how much food impacts mood. That is, people who ate more nutrient poor savoury snacks (crisps) tended to be more anxious and have more cognitive failures (e.g., forgetting), which then made them more anxious. Fruit, on the other hand, not how much but how often we ate fruit, seemed to correlate well lower depression and higher mental well-being scores.
Studies of more than 1 million people found that, unless we are engaging in 60–75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a day, sitting for 8 hours a day was as lethal as obesity and smoking….The Mayo Clinic recommends:
- Take a break from sitting every 30 minutes.
- Stand while talking on the phone or watching television.
- If you work at a desk, try a standing desk — or improvise with a high table or counter.
- Walk with your colleagues for meetings rather than sitting in a conference room.
- Position your work surface above a treadmill — with a computer screen and keyboard on a stand or a specialized treadmill-ready vertical desk — so that you can be in motion throughout the day.
Okay, so those are some ways to lessen the adverse effects. But, how do we power up stress, and what do we even mean by power up?
How To Power Up Stress
Albeit controversial, I think, the suggestion is that, when we show signs that we are stressed, people like us better and want to help. On first read, this sounded like emotional manipulation. Not a fan. Whether you would like me better or not, I, for one, wouldn’t like myself.
But then, there was a deeper understanding presented that the strength to show our weakness indicates a willingness to give and receive cooperative interaction, a social plus for our species for which we are hardwired to respond well.
The authors did specify an “honest signal, so maybe something to think for those of us who don’t particularly want anyone to see our suffering.
That said, the one thing I think we all can do, without conflict or controversy, is this simple trick of the mind.
From now on, when we see or feel stress coming on (like a major new project, or family event), how about if we reframe it as a major opportunity to use it to full advantage.
This hot off the presses study from the University of Georgia, found that “Some types of stress could be good for brain functioning: Low to moderate levels of stress may help build resilience while reducing risk of mental illness.”
The researchers found that there are some times, more than we might imagine, when stress can be an opportunity to:
- Sharpen cognitive abilities (e.g., attention, flexibility) that positively affect performance,
- Strengthen efficiency, effectiveness, and organization for performance excellence,
- And, lessen the risk of developing mental disorders,
- Because learning how to mastering the stress gives us the skill and confidence to deal with — and know we can deal with — stress in the future.
So next time we see something perceived as stressful coming down the pike, how about one simple trick or flip of the mind, as in, “Yay, I get to learn and grow stronger, bring it on.”
Try this one on, and let us know what you think.
Photo by Marek Piwnicki Unsplash