Feeling Stressed? Here's how your mindset can help you use stress to your advantage
This week we shift the focus away from pain and more towards performance. Today, let's dig into Mindsets, and how that can be leveraged for stress-management and overall performance.
However, to discuss how mindsets impact our lives, we first need to clarify what they are:
What is a Mindset?
Our Mindset refers to our core beliefs or assumptions that we have about a domain or category of things that orient us to certain expectations, explanations, and goals
Our mindsets originate from four main sources:
2. culture & media;
3. influential others in our lives;
4. conscious choice
The reality around us has the potential to be overwhelmingly complex, which is why mindsets are important. For starters, our mindset help us to simplify the complex reality around us by providing us a framework by which we interpret and experience things. Our mindset thereby shapes and orients our thinking and action.
But it's more than just a story of thinking and preference. In fact:
Our mindset shapes physiological mechanisms by changing what our bodies prioritise and are prepared to do.
Without mindsets, our world just wouldn't operate as efficiently. But there is a certain duality to mindsets, which you're probably seeing already.
The Role of Mindset in Stress
Just as an example of the duality, let's have a bit of a thought experiment - do you view stress as debilitating and bad or motivating and good for you?
You'd be forgiven for adopting the former. After all, it is the main public health message that we're used to. It's the one that sings - stress is bad and harmful for our health, productivity, relationships, fertility, cognition, etc..
But is this really the case?
Well, recent science doesn't think so. In fact, the reality is that stress can be extremely useful, if framed in the right way.
Our bodies are designed to have an enhanced response to experiences of stress and encountering adversity in goal-related efforts.
Some of these enhanced responses that our body produces include: narrowed focus, increased attention, increased rate of processing information, more readily available anabolic hormones, which help the body grow muscle & learn.
See, it's not all bad, but we do have to have the right mindset to truly reap these benefits.
If you view a stressor as more of a challenge and less of a threat, brain and body response is more adaptive.
In fact, people who view stress as an opportunity for growth, experience better health outcomes, better well-being and higher performance when exposed to stressful situations.
Although, it is important to note that it is not as easy as just trying to tell yourself that the experience of stress is good for you. Your brain is too clever for that, and will detect the insincerity. A helpful way to view this process is to acknowledge that:
the experience of stress can lead to enhanced outcomes.
How to Leverage Mindset for Stress
Adapting your mindset around stress won't happen overnight. It's a learned adaptation, forged through repetition and practice.
But a good place to start is to clarify your definition of stress, and what the experience is like for you. By defining stress, you are able to decouple it from its negative associations and realise it as a neutral byproduct of encountering adversity in goal-related efforts.
After all, we only experience stress in contexts that are meaningful to us - relationships, work, finances, health, etc.
Once you've defined what stress means to you and stripped it of it's negative associations, then it's time to put it into practice. Let's give it a go...
Three steps to adopting stress as an enhancing mindset:
Acknowledge that you’re stressed – own it, see it, be mindful of it
Welcome the stress – as I've said, stress is present in contexts that have internal meaning for us. So use it as an opportunity to connect with whatever it is that you're doing
Use the stress response to achieve the thing you care about, rather than spend your effort getting rid of the stress. After all, it could very well give you the extra push that you need
If you're interested in digging deeper into how Mindsets influence our lives and how we can leverage them, then the following podcast is a great place to start. It details a few interesting research papers where a slight change in mindset has had a profound influence on different groups physiological responses and psychological output. Worth a listen.