If you’re trying to breathe and stay calm in more stressful situations and generally remain cooler under pressure, then you’ll often be approaching the idea of stress as something ‘bad’ that you need to ‘fix’ or address. Actually though, this is the wrong way to think about stress and it’s even responsible for some of the issues associated with it. The perception is that stress makes us less confident, less able to make decisions and generally weaker. But the reality couldn’t be further from that. In fact, stress actually makes us much stronger and also improves our performance in various other ways too.
How it Makes You Stronger
When you’re stressed, it triggers your body to release neurotransmitters and hormones which include adrenaline, dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Together, these contribute to pain relief, an increased heart rate, dilation of the blood vessels, increased blood viscosity and tension in the muscles. Blood and oxygen are directed away from the digestive system and immune system and instead they’re directed to your muscles and brain. This makes you faster and stronger and therefore better able to escape danger or confront it head on. What’s more is that it improves your focus and alertness and improves your ability to act quickly and respond to threats. If you’re in a fight then, or an athletic contest – stress can actually help you to perform better and achieve more.
How Stress Motivates Us
At the same time, stress has the positive effect of motivating us. An example of this might be when we’re studying, at which point it’s often anxiety that makes us revise more or double check our work. The same goes for interviews and any other scenario where the outcome relies on us putting in work. This type of positive motivating stress is called ‘eustress’ and people tend to be more successful if they experience this to a good degree.
The key then is not to completely eradicate stress but rather to control it. By being able to dictate when you become anxious and how much stress you experience, you can thereby improve your ability to stay while at the same time tapping into the heightened strength, speed and intelligence that comes from a stress response. Next time you find yourself feeling anxious, don’t try to fight it (which will only make you more stressed ironically) but instead lean into it and channel it!