I want to dispel a myth: Stress does not have to be stressful.
What is accurate is that often we believe that the hard things, challenges, obstacles should be stressful. That belief, or pattern, induces our stress response.
Feeling “stressed out” doesn’t help us deal with the hard things most of the time. The more stressed we become, the more mentally ridged, the less flexible and the more temperamental we act.
That rigidity, inflexibility & shorter temper makes the situation that much harder. We are far less able to access our full mental, emotional & physiological resources to find the best solution.
Here’s a few ways that we can let go of the stress response and actually grow stronger from stress – not become debilitated by it.
Make stress your friend, not foe
Researcher & author Dr. Alia Crum writes that how we think stress will impact creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. She says we can see stress as an opportunity to learn & grow OR as something that hurts us.
She makes this point: “Think about a time when you experienced substantial personal or professional growth, or a time when you performed at your highest level, such as finishing a race, building a business, or raising a child. What was it that motivated and fueled you to grow, learn, and improve during these times? We are willing to bet that those times invariably involved some stress or struggle.”
She crafted a three-step process for how to control your energy in a stressful situation.
Step 1: See it. Notice the existence of something hard that brings up stress. This helps us to not avoid stress and to give us the courage to work through it.
Step 2: Own it. Dr. Crum says we’re stressed because we care. Tap into that care about ourselves, the situation or the impact we can make and notice the motivation it creates.
Step 3: Use it. Take the benefits of the stress response – heightened awareness, adrenaline & dopamine release, focus – and take action towards accomplishing the hard thing. As you begin to work through it, more confidence arises and the stress response gives way to resiliency.
In David Goggins’ new book “Never Finished” he talks about the concept he coined called the “mental zone.” (If you’ve read the book, this term is discussed in the audiobook… which I also recommend.)
As an ultra-endurance athlete, Goggins is hyper-focused on his heart rate. When he is training for 100 mile races in brutally-designed conditions, he’s goal is to maintain a “zone 2” heart rate. Zone 2 allows someone to stay in the activity, like running, for a long time while maintaining breath control.
He says spiking the heart rate to a zone 4 & 5 – which is associated with sprinting & short distance – creates fatigue. He also noticed, he says, the spike in heart rate creates mental fatigue.
Much like a heart zone, he says we need to focus keeping our mental zone at #2. We do that by controlling our breathing and shifting perspective on the stress. When we are successful at the #2 mental zone, we can work through the challenges for as long as it takes to get our desired win.
Empty your baggage
One of the reasons that stress situations become stressful is how we see it and then respond to it. Many times we get stressed out because a fear or a negative belief about ourselves is triggered.
A private client of mine was working on a new business venture. He was a rising star at his company with a history of business & corporate success. This person possessed all the skills necessary to be successful – ability to create, market, sell along with a great work ethic.
Yet, leaving the relative safety of the corporate gig loomed over him. He also saw concern from friends and family as a lack of support. He wondered if he had what it takes to go out on his own. This “baggage” added to his stress.
His stress response was to freeze and not do activities to launch this venture. The baggage stemming from his shaky belief made movement difficult.
When we worked on his beliefs and he let go of the baggage that debilitated him, he actually welcomed the stress of starting and was inspired to go after it. He launched his venture. Although it was rocky as new ventures go, he didn’t falter! Plus,. his confidence won back the renewed support of friends & family.
Did the baggage release make the launch easier? No. Did it make him more resilient? Yes. Without the weight of the baggage, he grew from the stress.
Fact is, for us to challenge our minds & bodies, we’ll encounter stress. The question is, will it stress us out and defeat us or will we use it to realize our biggest achievements?