How to consciously make use stress is a useful skill to have in today’s hustle and bustle of a society. Instead of falling a victim to a normal and natural bodily reaction, in this article you’ll learn how to make use of stress to your own advantage.
We often hear about stress and the harmful effects it has on the body and mind. Heart problems, high blood pressure, anxiety and exhaustion-related stress are concepts most of us are familiar with.
It’s fair to say that for most of us stress = bad!
However, some interesting developments have happened in the field of stress research lately which paint an intriguing picture.
Kelly McGonigal speaks about stress in an interesting way in her TED talk “How to Make Stress Your Friend.”
Kelly is a health psychologist who recently began thinking about stress in a completely new light. She says that rather than seeing stress as an enemy, she is beginning to learn how to see its usefulness. Not only that, but she believes the way we think about stress actually impacts the way our bodies respond to it.
In a study of 30,000 adults in the US which took place over a period of 8 years, participants were asked how much stress they felt they had endured over the last few years. They were also asked if they believed that stress is harmful for a person. The researchers then compared the answers to the amount of people who died after the survey took place.
The results were astounding.
The study found that people who had experienced a large amount of stress in the last year had a 43% increased risk of dying. However, the study also found that this number was only true for the people who believed that stress is harmful for you. Those who experienced high stress but did not believe it was harmful for you were no more likely to die.
The researchers came to the startling conclusion that it wasn’t stress in of itself that caused people to die, but the belief that stress was bad that did.
Can it be true that the way we think about how something like stress affects the way our body responds to it?
5 ways to make use of stress
Before we proceed… What actually is stress? One preliminary definition that will do for now is that stress is a natural and normal reaction that happens in the body-mind whenever a change occurs, physically or mentally, that the subjective sentient being feels needs to be addressed in some way or another.
So it’s a natural reaction and stimulus, here’s 5 ways to transform and make us of it for your own good:
1. Recognize your weaknesses
Whenever stress arises in the body, that very moment can be used to look further into the nature of the stress and why it arose in the first place. By recognizing how, why and when sudden stress arose in you, you give yourself the opportunity to evaluate and reflect upon what exactly gave rise to that reaction in you. This not only gives you power to recognize where your weaknesses lie but also makes you a little bit wiser on what exactly makes you tick.
2. For productivity and performance
When you learn to understand, hone and direct your stress, you can use it for a variety of different purposes, ranging from physical exercise to starting a meditation practice. Now being productive requires certain amounts of stress. To get work done needs willpower, which is nothing other than directed stress that’s somehow bound to your identity. Next time you feel a sudden oncoming of stress, try to feel out what it would mean to use it to boost performance in whatever you might be doing at that very moment or later on during the day.
3. Make the necessary changes
Stress in many ways compels you to readjust what you’re currently doing, feeling or thinking to a more beneficial state. There’s a reason why you’re feeling stressed, and that reason is that you’re reacting to your environment or to your subjective interpretation of your environment. These factors that end up making you stressed can at times be gross and palpable or very subtle, bordering on unconscious, but there are nonetheless underlying causes. Whenever you feel stress, the body-mind wants you to change that situation to something better, something that it senses is good for it. Sometimes its worth to just follow its lead and make the necessary changes. This could mean avoiding a certain person, this could mean running when you hear something suspect or what have you, you get it.
4. Reframe as excitement
Our belief in whether stress is bad or not actually partially decides whether it will be a liability to your health as was touched upon earlier. One way to solve this dilemma is to consciously rewire your brain and mind into thinking that stress equals excitement, and excitement never killed anyone as we know. This excitement can be used to discover and try new things. Moreover by calling it excitement instead of calling it stress and anxiety, will undo any self-destructive tendencies you might be having in your personality.
5. Boost cognition
Stress can be an effective booster of cognition and other parts of our intelligence. The fight-or-flight response which stress is a big part of, compels you to focus on what’s happening and what steps to take next. This boost of cognition can be used for both mental and physical problem-solving.
Don’t let stress overwhelm you and be a master over you. You’re wiser than that. Use stress to further your understanding of yourself, that is what makes you function the way that you do.
To quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet:
For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
William Shakespeare in Hamlet – Act 2 Scene 2