Believe It or Not, Stress Can Be Good For You

Most people believe that there is one way
that the body responds to stress, you know. Everyone’s heard the fight or flight response.
But it actually turns out that that’s just one way that the body and brain can respond
to a stressful circumstance. And it’s often not a very helpful way to respond to a stressful
circumstance, especially one in which you really want to rise to the challenge and perform
your best where it’s really not about survival mode. And it turns out that the brain and
the body actually has another way of responding to these kind of high stakes challenges, you
know, whether it’s an important negotiation or you have to give a speech or an athletic
competition. Those moments where you really want to show up and do your best. And that
other way of responding to stress is called a challenge response. That it’s a way for
your brain and body to give you maximum focus, attention and energy. And it’s physically
different than sort of the fight or flight response that we have when we feel deeply
threatened by a stressful situation. When you have a threat response, you know, your
body and brain are shifting into the state that is really sort of the classic association
with the harmful stress response. It’s going to make you more likely to choke
under pressure. It’s going to feel more like dread or overwhelm. When you have a challenge
response the brain and body actually sift into a state that gives you more access to
your resources. You know your heart might still be pounding but your blood vessels are
going to relax and open up so you get more blood flow to your muscles and to your brain.
Your brain shifts into a state – it’s actually better at paying attention to everything
in your environment rather than sort of being laser focused like you might be in a fight
or flight response on what’s going wrong or what’s dangerous. When you have a challenge
response all of your senses open to all the information that’s available to you which
means that you’re basically smarter under stress. And researchers have gotten really
interested in figuring out how do you get people to shift from a threat response into
a challenge response. Because unless you’re life is on the line in some sort of crazy
emergency situation it’s going to be better for you to have a challenge response than
a threat response. You’ll perform better and that’s been shown in situations ranging
from people performing surgery to athletes on the field to students taking difficult
exams. That when you have a challenge response you just do better. And it seems like one
of the best ways to shift from a threat response to a challenge response is actually to view
your own stress response as a resource. You know the reason that many people have
a threat response in a stressful situation is that the very first signs if anxiety when
they notice some sweat on their brow or they’re starting to feel their heart pound they think
uh oh, I’m about to blow it and they turn their attention to trying to calm down or
trying to suppress whatever stress is arising. And research originally coming out of Harvard
University has shown that when people say okay, I’m stressed out. I feel stress happening
right now. And that’s a resource. That stress can actually help me do better. It actually
changes the physiology of the stress response from threat to challenge and it helps people
perform better whether they’re giving a talk in public, whether they are engaging
in a business negotiation, whether they’re a student taking an exam – across many scenarios.
Literally just embracing your own stress energy, arousal or anxiety can transform what’s
happening in your brain and body to really help you rise to the challenge.

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