Psychological stress interpreted as being beneficial for the experiencer.
How do you experience stress?
A recent study tracked the death rates of 30,000 adults over eight years. The researchers asked, “How much stress have you experienced in the past year?” They also asked, “Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?” Researchers then waited to see who died.
As expected, those who experienced high stress in the past year had a 43 percent increased risk of dying. However this finding was only true for those who also believed that stress is harmful for their health. Participants who experienced high levels of stress and did not believe it to be harmful to their health had the lowest risk of dying – even lower than those who had very little stress.
Our bodies are built to respond to stressors in our environment with increased energy output. We need to harness and manage these surges of energy positively.
In 2012, researchers at Harvard conducted a study where they taught half the participants to rethink their stress response as helpful (using facts, such as, that breathing faster gets more oxygen to the brain, etc). All participants were then exposed to a standard stress test, such as doing a math test in public. The stress-embracing participants had markedly more successful results than the control group. This supports the theory that if we fight stress, our heart rate goes up and our blood vessels constrict. Whereas if we embrace stress, our heart will pound, but our blood vessels will stay relaxed – a response much closer to courage than fear.
Woah! Stress is powerful stuff. Most of us have noticed that when our bodies create energy, release hormones, or start to pulse, we can either seize the energy and thrive, or resist it and suffer negative consequences. And isn’t it nice when science supports our experience?
As I stood backstage, ready to give a recent TEDx talk, my heart was pounding. My veins were pulsing. Adrenaline was spewing everywhere. I had pre-focus jitters and was physically trembling. As we all know, this is an uncomfortable state. From past experience, however, I knew the key was to embrace this energy and use it to my advantage. “Welcome nerves,” I said quietly to myself. “Thank you for your power!” That is, I chose to use it as Performance Energy. I took this ball of Performance Energy to the stage with me and shared it with the audience. You can judge my efficacy here.
Sales calls, negotiations, speeches, Olympic races, near death experiences, difficult conversations with your spouse, tough words with colleagues, these all generate stressful energy. But when we acknowledge, welcome and name our eustress properly, we harness power. Use it wisely. Name it. I call it Performance Energy – what do you call it? I’d love to know.
The Final Questions
How did you experience your stressors in 2015?
How are you choosing to experience stress in 2016?
Adam delivers authentic keynotes, workshops and seminars for corporate, government and not-for-profit organizations worldwide. Please contact us for information about our offerings.