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Make stress your friend

How to make stress your friend

Seriously, who wants to be friends with stress?

Stress is the horrible bully that beats everybody up all day, but when you get to know him a little better, he isn’t really that bad. In my previous article on stress we covered how stress works and what you can do to neutralise its negative effects the moment you feel it.

This helps a lot to stop you from making huge issues out of things and stressing about them all day. Stress is however a massive part of our daily lives and you can’t get past the fact that you are going to be stressed sometimes.

The only reason stress is having such a negative impact on us today, is because we stay in that state for days. That’s not healthy folks!!

So why become friends with stress?

This whole idea of becoming friends with stress came after I started understanding what stress does to your body. It makes sure you are performing at your best and that you only use the resources you really need to survive.

So what if you could use this to your advantage? What if you took this stress and made it something positive?

Stress in short bursts is great. You get much more done and you really hunker down and focus. Ever procrastinate on a project for days and then just before the deadline get it done in a quarter of the time you were given? That’s you using stress!! Putting yourself in a position where you are stressed, because your deadline is so close and then getting it done because the pressure is on.

The idea of using stress to your advantage is not new. Tim Ferriss, in his book The Four Hour Work week says : “Distress is bad, Eustress is good.” Distress is worrying about something the whole time and building it up to this massive thing without taking any action. Eustress (Eu-, a Greek prefix for “healthy”) on the other hand is that stress you feel when you are being pushed to achieve something – when you set a goal that you know is hard to achieve. Something that really takes you out of your comfort zone. That kind of stress helps you to focus on something important. He suggests that you should be equally aggressive in removing distress and finding eustress.

So where’s the science?

This was all nice and dandy, but sceptic that I am I wanted to find out if there was anything to back this up.

I started reading up a lot and found that there is lots of stuff out there, but one lady, psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonigal from Stanford University, has really taken this idea and ran with it. She wrote a book called “The upside of stress” and did a TED Talk in 2013 called “How to make stress your friend. It is one of the 20 most viewed TED Talks of all time and has almost 10 million views.

In her talk, she refers to two studies that were done and of course I went and found those studies to read them. Everyone does that, right?

The short version is that in the first study, they came to the conclusion that people who had a negative perception of stress had a 43% increased risk of premature death. (Go read it for yourself if this sounds insane)

Now this was something I couldn’t believe. The perception you have of stress can actually increase your risk of premature death?! When you think about it, it starts to make sense though. We are all in control of our bodies. So why can’t we control our perceptions of stress?

The second study was the fun one, because it’s a little mean. So I’ll give you some of the details. In this one they took 50 people and a sample of them were told about the benefits of changing their perception of stress (kind of like this article is teaching you at the moment) while the others weren’t. They then asked these people to do a 5 minute speech in front of two assessors (public speaking is scary already) who only gave them negative facial expressions (mean!!).

Sort of like that nightmare we’ve all had where you have to give a speech and everyone in the audience looks at you like you have no idea what you are doing. As if this wasn’t bad enough, they then asked the participants to count backwards in steps of 7 from 996, while the assessors heckled them about being slow and not knowing what they were doing. Now I think you will all agree that this would be pretty stressful. I know I wouldn’t enjoy that!!

The results of this test were amazing though. They found that the people who had changed their perception of stress, actually changed their physical stress response. These people still had the pounding heart, but their blood vessels didn’t contract as in a normal stressful situation. This is actually what happens to your body in moments of courage. So they changed their perception of doing a 5 minute talk in front of an audience from being stressful to being courageous.

Just changing how they perceived it actually changed their physical response….

Won’t it make a massive difference in your life if, the next time you had to speak in front of a crowd, you saw yourself as courageous for doing it rather than thinking of it as this massive stressful thing? I know I’ve done it and it worked for me. I used to have that constantly tapping foot when I had to speak in front of people. Well I tried to make it look like a tap, but it was actually just my leg shaking out of fear. After learning this I changed my perception. I saw it as something courageous and it didn’t go away after the first time but slowly speaking in front of people wasn’t that daunting to me anymore. I started  seeing it as fun. Something I had the guts to do and not something I was afraid of.

Speaking in front of people is an easy example to use, but you can use this in any other area of your life as well. If you just change your perception you will actually change how your body reacts to it.

Bringing it all together

So what does this mean for you?

Firstly when you feel stress, acknowledge it. Know that you are stressed and do something about it. (Read this if you want to know how.)

After you have done that, make stress work for you and change your perception of it. When you feel that pounding heart, see it as your body giving you the extra energy you need to face the stressful situation. When you are going through a stressful event see it as something that will make you stronger and that you will learn and grow from.

Like anything in life, this is something that you have to practice and it will become easier over time. Start using it everyday in small ways and after a while, it will become effortless.  

Who knows, you might actually even live a little longer…….