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Don’t Stress Over Stress: Changing Your Attitude To Achieve Success

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Thursday, December 28, 2023

Imagine the most stressful situation you can think of, like standing on a stage in front of a lot of people:

Everyone is watching you. Bright lights in your face.

You’ve practiced for this moment yet struggle to remember what to say or do.

Your heart is beating out of your chest. Breathing and talking seem impossible. Sweat pours down your face.

Stress–the word might be enough to spike your blood pressure. Stress has been our mortal enemy for quite some time. Something society has taught us to avoid or abolish. Well, we’re about to flip the script on stress. We’re about to tell you why stress isn’t the enemy and how it can actually lead to your success.


Changing Your Perception Of Stress

Stress gets a bad rap, but we need it. Without it, we’d be unmotivated and unproductive. Our belief in stress being the enemy is the real enemy here. In fact, one study revealed that those who believed their stress was harmful had a 43% greater risk of dying than those who also had stress but didn’t view it as bad.

Did you catch that? Simply changing how we view stress can improve our health. How’s that for the power of thought? Our bodies respond and cope in healthier ways when we view stress as beneficial. We don’t need to get rid of it. We need to learn how to be successful with stress instead.


Helpful Stress Chemicals

So, how can we view stress as helpful when the opposite view is ingrained in us? Science helps us. Our bodies produce helpful responses to stress. All that’s required of us to flip stress from harmful to helpful is telling ourselves it’s helping us. Then, we can embrace what our body is going through, and negative stressors physically turn positive.

  • ​Heavy breathing is our body bringing in more oxygen. That increase gets us ready to react.​
  • ​An increase in serotonin makes us more alert. Our brains are getting ready for our best thinking. Primal survival instincts begin to take over and help us make quicker decisions.
  • ​A pounding heart is coursing blood through our bodies to increase our strength and energy. Oddly enough, it’s the same bodily responses we experience in moments of joy and courage.
  • ​Those butterflies in your stomach? They help turn you into a social butterfly. Stress and the oxytocin hormone released by it cause us to crave social connections. We come together to talk about our worries and support and care for each other. We bond and grow stronger as a result.

Stress, Stress. Good For Your Heart

Feeling stressed and anxious can cause the blood vessels around our hearts to constrict. Unfortunately, this can increase a person’s risk of heart attack or stroke. However, people experiencing stress from excitement, joy, and courage don’t have that happen. Why not?

It turns out that oxytocin is why. It’s anti-inflammatory. More of it is released when you have a different perception of the stress (perceived pleasure instead of misery). Oxytocin protects the heart by keeping blood vessels nice and wide. It also helps the heart regenerate cells for faster recovery and a stronger heart muscle.

How cool is it that stress, which constricts blood vessels around the heart, also produces the right chemical to protect the heart?! Our body has a built-in lifesaver. And all we need to do is remember the good that comes from being stressed.

It’s as easy as flipping a switch. Perceiving stress as bad produces adverse reactions. However, identifying our stress responses as helpful (our body primes us to act quickly and efficiently) releases more helpful chemicals.


Yerkes-Dodson Law

Can you relate to this? There you are, doing something you’ve done countless times. You could do it in your sleep. In fact, rest sounds perfect because your brain is about to die of boredom.

Or how about this? You have to do something so new and challenging that you don’t know where to start. Your mind begins to wander. You’ll procrastinate and scroll social media instead because it’s much easier and more rewarding.

There’s a law for these two polar opposite responses to stress. It’s called the Yerkes-Dodson law, named after the two scientists who created it, though it isn't a scientific law at all.

While running experiments on rats, they noticed the amount of stressors they put on rats affected their performance. Rats with too little or too much stress took the longest time to learn a task. But rats with a medium amount of stress learned the quickest.


Using Yerkes-Dodson Law

How can we use information from the Yerkes-Dodson discovery in everyday life?

Knowing that too little or too much stress leads to poor performance is a great start. We don’t have to be scared of stress. We can continue to set the bar higher and higher until we find a sweet spot.

Stress keeps us motivated, and that helps us set and reach goals. We’ll be the most successful we can be if we have the optimal amount of stress to keep us motivated but not overwhelmed.

We can’t tell you what kind of stress is optimal or how many hours a day you should work or rest. Your experiences, sensitivity to stressors, emotions, fears, beliefs, confidence, outlook, and the type and difficulty of the tasks affect your optimal stress level.

Short-term, moderate stress is beneficial as long as you make time to rest and recover. Chronic, unmanaged stress is harmful.

We can’t always change our situation. Sometimes, there’s a challenging task that we simply must get through. Our perception of stress can make all the difference, though.

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