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In Stressful Times, Mindset Counts

Make Stressful Times Work for You

It is a truth universally acknowledged that stress is bad for you. Stress leads to high blood pressure, lowered immune responses, relational difficulties, etc., etc. So in these especially stressful times you’ve really just got to RELAX for the sake of your health, right?

But what if we’ve been looking at stress all wrong? In a 2020 American Psychological Association study, researchers suggest that we should be focusing on optimizing our stress rather than reducing it.

If you’re convinced that stress will kill you, you’ll spend your energy avoiding stressors and worrying about the negative affects of the stress you can’t avoid. But this is an overly negative view on stress, completely ignoring the motivating drive it can provide. As the APA study states, “when people are invited to reflect on the times in their lives when they have learned, grown substantially, or performed at exceptionally high levels, they often report those times having been deeply stressful.”

So how can we use our stress to help rather than harm? According to the study, it’s all in our mindset.

Stress is Neutral, Your Attitude Is Not

Stress is not inherently good or bad, it is a neutral “response of the body to any demand made upon it.” Stress responses can range from the stomach drop and racing heartbeat when you make a mistake, to the thrilling excitement you feel before a big game. Both examples show your body kicking into high gear when presented with an important task, from fixing an error to outplaying an opponent.

The key to stress optimization is to shift from thinking “stress is bad for me” to “stress can be good for me.” This takes your focus off of the stress and its potential negative effects and has you thinking instead about the “underlying goals and opportunities associated with the stress.”

For example, say you have an interview that you’re nervous about. You could worry about how worried you feel, maybe watch a movie or two to get your mind off it. Updating your resume and researching the company just brings your stress to mind so you delay the work or rush through it. Any time you feel that worry rise up, you slap it back down and tell yourself to RELAX already.

Or, you could ask yourself why this interview matters to you. Maybe the job offers better salary or benefits, is better located or offers opportunities for advancement – all things that can improve your quality of life. Reframing your stress into excitement about the opportunity can focus your energy into motivation and drive. Rather than wasting your time trying to forget your worries, you face them and use your time and energy preparing for your interview.

One choice traps you in passive avoidance while the other fuels active engagement with your goals. Which will you chose?