|Source: Stanford University|
All of us have found ourselves overwhelmed at times by high levels of stress and anxiety. For some, these feelings and emotions can become debilitating. Our performance in a challenging situation suffers greatly. However, the consequences do not always have to be so dire. I recently listened to a fascinating podcast featuring Stanford psychology professor Alia Crum. She's the principal investigator in Stanford's Mind and Body Lab.
Crum has been examining how and why many of us have come to assume that stress should and will be debilitating. In fact, she argues that well-intentioned public health communications tend to reinforce this negative perception about stress. However, her work has explored how our mindset matters. Looking at stress with a different perspective can help us persevere through adversity and actually elevate our performance in very challenging situations. Here's an excerpt from the podcast:
The nature of a challenging situation or a demand in our life. That’s what we been focused on. And what we’ve found is that, if you kinda go back into those core assumptions, what you realize is that, most people have the mindset that stressful situations are inherently debilitating. They’re going to ultimately make us sick, make us struggle, make us crumble under pressure. And when you look at the truth about stress which is like most things very complicated, you realise that that is a simplified assumption. It’s not necessarily wrong, but it’s only one way of viewing stress and you start to realize that the true nature of stress is more complex.
And in fact, there’s a whole other side of stress that reveals to us that the body’s stress response, the mind stress response, was not designed to be debilitating, but instead designed to help us elevate our performance and behavior to meet the demands we’re facing. There’s a whole side of stress that shows that it can have enhancing qualities on our cognitive functioning, our physical health and on how we behave and interact with others. And so, our work is not necessarily to find out the truth of stress, what it is or what isn’t. But to look at how our mindsets, the core assumptions we make about it shape how we respond in stressful situations. And what we’ve shown is that if we can get people to open their minds to this notion that stress can be enhancing. That stress can help you rise to a new level of understanding, can deepen your connection with others, can make us even physiologically grow tougher and stronger. Having that focus shifts our attention and behaviors in ways that make that mindset more true.