What’s Your Stress Mindset?

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What do you believe about stress or pressure? Does it make you better? Does it tear you down? Are you dialed in or do you check out?

Your answers to these questions are super important to your ability for ultimate success.

Effects of your stress mindset

A group of researchers worked with a financial company to understand how its employees viewed stress. Through a series of questions they grouped employees into two camps: 1. people who believed stress was debilitating; 2. people who believed stress was enhancing.

What they found is that stress mindset correlated with the amount of stress symptoms people reported, their ability to cope with social situations and internal mood regulation. It also predicted overall life satisfaction.

The people who believed stress debilitated them had overall lower life satisfaction, which plays into happiness and fulfillment – the very things that we want our work to produce for us.

The stress mindset did not predict work performance. That simply means the people with the debilitating mindset about stress were powering through.

With these findings, it’s not difficult to believe that people with the debilitating mindset had more health problems than their counterparts, which perpetuates the spiral that these folks were experiencing.

Obviously, seeing stress as enhancing is supremely beneficial to us not only feeling good, yet being able to take it on and grow from it.

If you’re reading this and believe stress to be more debilitating, you’re not doomed.

A stress mindset is learnable…and powerful

These same researchers wanted to see if a stress mindset is malleable.

They worked with business school students in a top university. They put students into 3 groups.

1st group received real information about the enhancing power of stress.

Here’s the facts: stress causes more blood flow, which allows for more physical and even mental energy. It pumps out adrenaline & cortisol, which make us more alert and better equipped to think and move quickly. It creates hyper-focus so that we are able to intensely focus on situations. All of those physiological responses to stress actually at optimal levels enhance our ability to perform most tasks at our best… hence, it’s enhancing.

2nd group received information about the debilitating power of stress.

We all know what feeling “stressed out” is like. And, that’s just as real and fact-based as the enhancing characteristics.

A 3rd group was the control group, which received no stress-related information.

The class came together and were taught to develop charisma while giving a speech. Following the lecture, the students were told that they’d be given a short amount of time to develop a 5 minute speech, using the charisma techniques they just learned. Three students, they were told, would be chosen at random to give their speech.

Moreover, the students who give the speech would have the opportunity to receive peer feedback on their performance AND be video taped so that professionals in the business speaking world could also provide feedback on their speech and delivery.

Public speaking is a big fear of many people and receiving feedback on top of that is stress inducing for most. Even professional speakers talk about nerves before a speech, which is a minor symptom of stress.

Students who were given the education about stress being debilitating had a much larger response than their counterparts. Through saliva testing, their cortisol level increase was significantly higher and they reported experiencing more stress symptoms.

Students who learned about the enchanting characteristics of stress, had a different response. They reported less stress-related symptoms.

What happened under-the-hood is even more important for us to digest.

The “enhancing” mindset students had interesting results from the cortisol test. The students that had lower cortisol before the experiment, their cortisol level raised, signaling they were at a lower level of stress. Students who had higher levels of cortisol had their levels decrease to roughly the same level.

People who believe stress is enhancing actually bring the appropriate levels of stress to pressure situations to take full advantage of the positive elements of the stress response. They are not stressed out, they are dialed in.

That’s not all. Enhancing students were much more likely to desire the feedback from their peers and the professionals. One of the hallmarks of high achievers is their ability to be coachable and learn from their experiences. It’s a willingness to be uncomfortable in the name of improvement.

Stress is not the problem. It’s also not the solution. Our mindset around stress will make or break our success.

Now, what is your mindset around stress?