Everyone experiences stress. It’s the body’s natural response to any number of perceived or real threats – your heart pounds, your palms get sweaty, you breathe more quickly and your mouth feels dry. There’s no way that this could possibly be good for you. Is there?
Actually, yes: by taking control of your stress, you will feel able to better handle the pressure and your self-confidence will soar.
So, what is stress?
When a threat is perceived, the brain produces a flood of hormones, including Cortisol. This hormone reduces libido and causes hypertension, suppressed immunity and high blood sugar. None of these are in any way positive, but fortunately Cortisol isn’t the only hormone produced when under stress. The brain also releases epinephrine (adrenaline), which increases concentration, will power and stamina. That’s why you get a boost of energy when you’re exercising, or when you feel excited or scared.
Elite athletes use stress to achieve their goals, while students that believe stress helps their performance score better than those who see it as a burden (University of Rochester).
These are some of the ways that I think of stress to turn the energy to my advantage:
See stress for what it really is
I learned early on that stress and fear were linked. Running from fear seemed logical, but I realised that running from stress would never solve the problem – or even let me escape. Both feelings are inevitable in life, but if you turn and face your stress, and – like a class bully – see it as the overblown yet ultimately weak entity that it is. Perceive stress as a helpful friend pointing you in a direction that will progress you as a person, rather than a monster from which to flee.
Think out of mind
Concentrate on what you have in life, not what you’re missing. Focus on these things and make them the best they can be. You might just find this vicariously enhances other aspects of your life.
Think about the people that you respect. Do you respect them because they’ve never had to work through things? Because they’ve been handed everything in life on a plate? Of course not, and like them the experiences will only make you stronger. Imagine someone thinking back on your legacy and how you overcame what at first seemed like negative experiences. After all, what happens when you put extreme pressure on raw, un-constructed carbon? You create a diamond.
How can I take control of my stress levels for greater vitality and wellbeing?
For stress to become a positive force in your life, you have to control it, not the other way around.
Taking three deep breaths can really make a difference. It calms your muscles, boosts your oxygen supply and gives you the headspace to relax.
Roll your head
Rock it from side to side, then draw a big circle with your chin. This will release the tension in your neck and shoulders.
Swim or splash your face with water. The cooling effect will relax you and give you clarity of thought.
Tell yourself (out loud) “I am excited” or “I am confident”, rather than “I am stressed” or “I am scared”.
Distract yourself (productively)
Sometimes you just need to remove yourself from the stress altogether. Think about productive distraction techniques, such as spring cleaning the house, getting a haircut, or just try changing up your daily routine.
Find out more about how you can take hold of stress and turn the energy to your advantage.