Stress is defined as where we feel that the demands made on us exceed our ability to meet them. The result is anxiety. Feeling in control can help combat this anxiety. Moderate stress increases the levels of the neurotransmitter noradrenaline which can increase our brain’s alertness level such that it improves its functioning. Moderate stress can also improve memory.
You have to believe that you can have some control over your emotions in order to learn how to do so. If you are fatalistic and believe that your emotions are not under your control, then by definition you won’t learn how to do so.
It is critically important to have a challenge mindset, rather than a threat mindset. Saying “I feel excited” before a stressful presentation, for instance, improves performance and reduces anxiety compared to saying “I feel anxious”. The symptoms of the two emotions are the same, so stress is a sort of energy that you can harness.
Here are some tips that you might find helpful:
- Mind-wandering is something you do 160 times a day and can make you stressed and lower your mood (unless intentional daydreaming or problem solving). If you learn to control your attention and focus better, it can improve your mood and reduce stress.
- Breathe – you can control your brain chemistry any time of the day, to relax and feel focused. If you breathe in slowly to the count of 4 and out to the count of 6, you lower levels of noradrenaline in your brain – part of the fight or flight system. Do this as a brain reset button each time you change task during the day. It will make you think more clearly and feel less under pressure.
- Morning or evening person – working out which of these you are can help boost your memory, raise your performance and lower stress. Higher alertness at your preferred time means better performance, faster learning, better memory and an improved focus that lifts your mood and lowers stress.
- Lift your alertness at low times using self-alerting, brisk exercise, luxurious stretching in your chair or alerting drinks like coffee; schedule the boring, routine tasks for these down times, leaving the challenging ones for your alert time of day.
- Positive memories – a two-minute activity can lift your mood. Write down the good things that have happened today, however small, from a tree in blossom to a belly laugh at a funny story – choosing small positive memories makes it easier for your brain to throw up further positive thoughts.
- Self-respect – if you have this, you will more likely turn stress into challenge. Self-respect helps you see the opportunity in stress, not just its downside, and gives you the impetus to go on through tough times.
- Goal Setting – Do this to move on when you feel stuck. Set a simple goal that is neither too easy nor too difficult. Just achieving a small goal changes your brain through a tiny injection of success. Then it’s easier to achieve another, more challenging goal.
- Action – one of the most powerful ways of changing your emotions and actions. Just doing it, simply going on, can trick the brain into creating the thoughts and emotions that go with the action. In other words, FAKE IT ‘TIL YOU MAKE IT. Do this to keep up your confidence in a stressful situation.
- Posture – avoid a hunched or constricted body posture. Sit or stand tall even though you may feel like hiding away. Constricting your body like this saps confidence.
- Emotions – Fear, Anxiety, Anger, Lust and Excitement have similar bodily symptoms – beating heart, sweaty palms, rapid breathing, flushed skin – it is our thoughts and the context that make them feel so different.
- I feel excited – say these three words to yourself, to boost your performance in a nerve-wracking situation? Nervousness and excitement have the same symptoms – only the thoughts distinguish them. Just saying these three words changes the emotion and makes you perform better.
- Challenge not a threat – turn the anxiety in a difficult situation into one of eager anticipation. Thinking of the situation as a challenge not a threat emboldens you and equips you better to deal with it.
- Anger is an emotion you must handle with extreme caution. You can use anger to energize you after bad things have happened, but it can easily make you feel worse if you don’t handle it properly.
- Anger is an emotion that only works as a tool if you use it for a specific purpose. Suppressed or purposeless anger raises stress hormones like cortisol, and also blood pressure. Rethinking your anger, or expressing it in constructive ways, has the opposite effect.
- Failure – This unlikely experience can lead to greater creativity and new beginnings. Bad experiences like failure can have good side effects when they force you to give up your current goals and re-think your own priorities.
- Self-Distancing – is a simple mental trick that can help see you through tough emotional experiences. Emotional pain can be lessened by self-distancing, whereby you adopt a watchful but slightly detached perspective on your own emotions and thoughts.
- It’s not fair! If you think this when bad things happen to you, it will only help if you take specific action to try to do something about the unfairness – and although life is often unfair, often there is nothing you can do about it. Without specific action, the anger this thought causes will make you feel worse and make it harder for you to get the angry thoughts of injustice out of your mind.
Stress is an everyday experience that can make you emotionally stronger. Moderate levels of stress can build resilience and enable you to cope better, it can also improve your mental sharpness by boosting alertness hormones in the brain.