We all spend time trying to alleviate stress in a myriad of ways, and some of those strategies – polishing off a bag of chips or bottle of wine, or engaging in retail therapy (i.e. shop ’til you drop) – while enjoyable in the moment, ultimately add to our stress overload.
Deep breathing, getting out in nature or exercising — those traditional stress-busters we’re all so familiar with — are invaluable for creating peace of mind. But let’s face it, not all stress can be banished. But don’t let that stress you out! Instead, adopt this novel approach that the latest research has shown allows you to transform your angst into a catalyst for peak performance: Reframe how you view stress. That’s right, by shifting your mindset, you can make stress work for you.
Before I go any further, let me add a note of caution. I don’t want you shifting your mindset right into poor health or martyrdom. If, for example, the people you live with expect you to have a gourmet meal on the table each night following a long day of work, please do not reframe this as an opportunity to hone your culinary skills. In fact, in such circumstances, if you’re performing that task with any bitterness or frustration, you need to speak your truth.
But since stress on the job is inevitable, a change in attitude about it can make a difference in how it affects you. Researchers have found that simply telling people who are about to undertake a stressful exam that their racing heart and sweaty palms are valuable tools then enables them to perform well. Guess what? That little mind trick works. So next time you’re faced with a daunting task – giving a presentation, perhaps — use stress to your advantage. Tell yourself that those physical feelings will launch you to success.
I’ve employed that technique myself. When I have a speaking engagement, because I want to do a stellar job, often my heart is racing and I have butterflies in my stomach right before walking on stage. But I embrace those feelings, knowing they keep me on my toes and add a bit of spontaneity to the mix. I also remind myself that I’m there to serve. It’s about the audience, not me, which helps me reframe and focus.
But what about long-term, on-the-job stress? Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think and author of The Happiness Advantage, was part of a research team that showed videos to managers of the financial services firm UBS in the midst of the banking crisis. One group saw a video depicting stress as debilitating to performance. The video shown to the second group detailed ways stress enhances the brain and body. Six weeks later, not only did the second group see stress as enhancing their performance, they also experienced “a significant drop in health problems and a significant increase in happiness at work,” according to Achor.
Let stress bring you success by putting this latest research to work. And remember, people who speak their truth have their thoughts, words and actions in alignment. To help me re-align how I’m thinking about my stress, when I find myself thinking, “I’m stressed,” I’m going to reframe that thought to, “I’m in demand!”