How To Destroy Stress Immediately
Adam Leticain Uncategorized
August 10, 2022
Want to learn the science-backed way to handle stress quickly? Whether you’re giving a speech, getting ready to perform, or just getting through the work day – this tool will help!
What Is Acute Stress?
Today we’re gonna talk about something. I work with a lot of my coaching clients on which is “how do I deal with acute stress”. And when I say acute stress, I mean that momentary stress where you’re getting up and giving a speech, or you’re leading some type of presentation at work, or you’re going to perform in some matter, any type of momentary stress.
I’m not talking about life or death stress where somebody robs you or you’re running from somebody who’s trying to attack you. It’s more of the psychological or perceived stress of normal day-to-day life like your family career work, whatever that might be. Now, one of the core common beliefs we have about stress is that the best way to handle stress is just to calm down.
The Wrong Way To Handle Stress
One of the core faculty members at Harvard business school (See Alison Wood Brooks) asked Americans what’s the best way to do with acute stress. And they said…. well… you gotta calm down.
It turns out that that’s not true. The reason it doesn’t work is that you’re trying to go from a really high arousal state where you’re stressed (your heart is pumping, you’re sweating) to a very low arousal state, which is calmness, serenity, tranquility. So the question then beckons, what is the best way to deal with that momentary acute stress?
Well, Dr. Kelly, McGonigal, in her book “The Upside of Stress” brought this idea of what’s called the challenge response to light. The challenge response is about perceiving the physiological symptoms that come up during those momentary acute levels of stress and perceiving them as something useful and helpful.
The Challenge Response
I want to give you a metaphor. I grew up wrestling. Before every single wrestling match, I would get really nervous. But the nerves were more like tingles in my stomach and my heart was racing, but I didn’t perceive it as like threatening stress or something that was harmful to me. In fact, I really enjoyed it! I thought of it as my body getting exciting and getting ready to go tackle whatever opponent I was going to face-off against.
If you’ve ever played sports before you know those pregame jitters. It’s that feeling that actually gets you hyped up and ready to take action. But it’s the same physiological stress response that you get when you’re going up to a boardroom meeting or maybe you’re giving a presentation. And so the question is why does it feel so different? Well, it has to do with the way we perceive those symptoms.
Sometimes we perceive those exact same physiological symptoms as something harmful. And the key to the challenge response is seeing those physiological symptoms as something that can help.
They did a research study where they asked people to come on stage and give a presentation about all of their weaknesses. During that presentation, the faculty members (people scoring the presentation in the crowd) were told to give really discouraging feedback like grimacing faces or yawning or rolling their eyes or telling them that they weren’t very good at that public speaking (maybe you’ve been there…).
Then they had to follow up that presentation by counting backward, as fast as they could in increments of seven and seeing how far they can get. Now, if you don’t like math, and if you don’t like public speaking, this probably sounds like a nightmare to you.
As part of the study, there were two groups. One was told about the negative ramifications of stress. The other was told to look at the stress response, not as something harmful, but as something helpful that those same physiological symptoms of increased blood pressure, sweating, heart rate butterflies in your stomach as your body preparing you to take action and actually perform better.
What researchers found is that participants who were told prior to this study that physiological symptoms of stress were actually helpful performed better on the math test and actually had lower levels of stress following the end of the event.
What we can learn here is that the way we perceive stress actually drastically impacts the way our body uses stress and the way we interpret it. So if you’re looking to deal with acute stress, the best way to handle it is not by trying to calm down it’s by using the challenge response.
Here’s how you use the challenge response. Notice when those certain stressful symptoms come up for you, maybe it’s a racing heart, and that gets you all freaked out or butterflies in your stomach. Instead of saying, “oh my God, something bad’s happening” or “I don’t want this to be happening” tell yourself “this is my body rising to the occasion, giving me the energy and vitality. I need to perform at my highest level”.
When you start looking at stress as something that is enhancing versus something that is destructive, you can actually use it and utilize it for better performance.
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