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How to Use Stress to Your Advantage
The consensus these days is that stress is bad for you. Considering that serious health problems can develop from long term stress, this doesn’t come as a surprise.
Chronic stress can lead to raised blood pressure, increase the likelihood of a stroke or heart attack, and can speed up the aging process. Stress in the workplace is a common problem – according to most estimates, stress-related sickness costs businesses in America hundreds of billions of dollars every year.
Chronic stress is a serious problem that needs combatting – if you’re suffering from this, take it seriously and seek medical help. But with that said, stress in small doses can be useful giving you an energy boost and motivating you to perform well.
However, stress can also cloud your judgement, make you over-emotional and stop you thinking properly.
So How Can you Use Stress to Your Advantage?
The Stress Hormones: Cortisol and Epinephine
When people hear the phrase ‘stress hormone’ they usually think of cortisol. Chronically elevated cortisol levels can cause reduced libido, hypertension, suppressed immunity, and high blood sugar levels.
But stress releases another hormone: epinephrine – or as it’s more commonly known, adrenaline – which helps concentration, will and stamina.
Change your Mindset
While for many people it is easier said than done, the benefits of changing your mindset, which allows you to view anxiety as a positive influence, makes it worth the effort.
Elite athletes have been found to interpret the symptoms of anxiety as facilitative rather than debilitative, allowing them to perform at sustained high intensity levels. Meanwhile, a study by the University of Rochester has shown that students who believe stress can help performance during exams do better than students who believe stress hinders exam performance.
Are any of these things likely to happen to you at some point in your life?
- You’re presented with a deadline that doesn’t give you sufficient time to do the required task.
- Unexpected events interfere with already extremely busy periods at work.
- Someone at work lets you down, increasing your workload in the process.
- You’re set unrealistic targets that you don’t think you’ll be able to meet.
Most people would accept they will find themselves in these situations; while the exact circumstances will differ you will face times in your life that cause stress. You don’t have any control over facing stressful situations – but you do have control over how you think about stress and the way it will affect you.
Our page: The Importance of Mindset covers this topic in more detail.
Don’t Let Stress Overwhelm You
As well as changing the way you think about stress, you can also try to control it so it doesn’t overwhelm you. Make stress work for you, not the other way around.
There are plenty of stress busting techniques that can help you regain control of the situation. Taking several long deep breaths, rolling your head to loosen your neck and shoulders, and cooling your face with cold water are some common techniques, but there are plenty of other small things you can do to regather your focus. Find the thing that works for you.
If you have a big project coming up or a major deadline looming, taking a couple of deep breaths is unlikely to cut it. Instead a bigger stress reaction is needed. Stress reactions give us the illusion of control, which can help put us in the right frame of mind to tackle the task in front of us.
Some stress reactions are unhelpful and can lead to further problems. For example, some of us become withdrawn and don’t seek appropriate help from other people, or become so competitive at work that we damage relationships with colleagues. Try to identify how you react to stress: if your usual reaction is destructive, can it be replaced?
Getting a new haircut or giving your office a spring clean are examples of non-destructive stress reactions.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Understand and Manage Stress in Your Life
Learn more about the nature of stress and how you can effectively cope with stress at work, at home and in life generally. The Skills You Need Guide to Stress and Stress Management eBook covers all you need to know to help you through those stressful times and become more resilient.
Eating, Sleeping and Drink
Changes in appetite, drinking more alcohol, and finding it difficult to sleep are all things that can happen to you when you get stressed. If you want to use stress to your advantage you will have to combat this.
Some short term issues associated with not eating enough include low energy levels and headaches – you don’t need telling why this can be problematic during stressful periods of your life. If your loss of appetite means you aren’t automatically being prompted to eat then set reminders on your phone.
For many people, turning to alcohol at times of stress can be an attractive proposition. However, while its immediate effects might make you feel better, the consequences of drinking will just exacerbate problems. This is because it disturbs your usual sleep patterns – in a normal night you’ll have six to seven cycles of REM sleep, but if you’ve been drinking you might only have one or two. Furthermore, if you’re drinking a lot you might find yourself waking up several times to go to the bathroom.
Even if you aren’t drinking alcohol, it can still be difficult to sleep properly if you’re anxious. Avoid caffeine and exercise in the hours immediately before sleep and try some stress busting techniques to help you relax. Sleeping tablets should generally be a last resort and will only provide short term relief.
Tips for a good night’s sleep
- Take a warm bath that will give your body the ideal temperature for sleep.
- Write a ‘to do’ list for the day ahead to help clear your mind – you won’t keep yourself up worrying that you’ll forget to do something important.
- Avoid watching TV or using your smartphone / tablet in bed since this only weakens the association between the bedroom and sleeping.
See our pages: Stress, Nutrition and Diet and The Importance of Sleep for more information and tips.
A Final Word
There’s no doubt that stress can be used as a force for good, but there’s no doubt that excessive amounts of it over the long term can cause serious problems.
Don’t be a hero – if you’re worried about the effects of stress seek help.
About the Author
This article was written exclusively for SkillsYouNeed by Shawn Hunt of satellite broadband specialists Broadband Wherever.