Most people will do anything to avoid stress. We respond to the IDEA of stress with fear. We want to avoid it, fight it off, do all we can to minimize its impact on our lives. But it turns out that the way we THINK about stress or our “stress mindset” actually determines our biological response to stress, and more often than not, greeting stress as we would an old welcomed friend might be the best strategy for our long term health and productivity.
As a stress physiologist, I have spent years studying stress – mostly to help clients avoid the overwhelm and despair they feel when their mindset is fixed on stress as the enemy. But what fascinating research by Dr. Alia Crum has found, is that the way we perceive stress (either as an enhancing or debilitating force) has massive outcomes on our physical health, life satisfaction and our ability to get feedback from others.
Most people naturally fall into the category of seeing stress as a threat. Something that will negatively impact their performance, health and emotional state. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this mindset. However, I want you to imagine a time of great personal and/or professional growth. A time when you pushed yourself physically or mentally or perhaps even in a relationship to grow and become something new. Would you describe that experience as a stressful one?
In a fascinating study, researchers used film to manipulate individuals’ mindsets about stress being either an enhancing or inhibiting force. Afterwards, participants were exposed to a stressful situation and researchers measured variables like mood, cognitive flexibility, attention biases, and hormone levels for each of the experimental groups. As predicted, people who watched the stress-is-enhancing clip had better cognitive performance, more positive emotions, and were better able to modulate their hormonal stress response. The opposite was true for those exposed to the stress–debilitating clip.
So what story are you telling yourself about stress and is that stress mindset one that will help you rise to the challenge or hold you back from your achievements?
You may not be able to control the stressors that life throws your way, but your attitude about how stress operates in your life can make a huge difference in the outcomes you achieve in the face of challenges.