Positive Stress: How to Use Stress To Your Advantage

use stress to your advantage

I love information that reminds us that stress is not always bad. In fact, its useful. That’s why we have it built into our neurology to begin with- how else would we have survived all these millennia?

The thing is we don’t live in an era of constant physical stressors. Sometimes its hard to figure out how to let go of unnecessary stress and get down to business. It’s hard to do sometimes isn’t it? Oh! and we’ve all been both the culprit and the victim of the hapless friend/relative/loved one who sees us struggling with our stress and says “Relax!” Kinda want to throttle that advice giver don’t we? And yet, we’ve doled out the same advice ourselves. So, here’s a few ways to use stress when we can’t shake it (with a little help from Real Simple magazine):

1. Get yourself pumped.

You can’t worry and relax at the same time. BUT the feelings related to excitement are very close to those experienced during worry or stress (racing heart, sweaty palms- you know the drill). The feelings are remarkably similar regardless of whether you’re experiencing them because you’re going on a first date, or your boss is yelling at you.

A psychological study in which the researcher told participants they’d either perform a song, speak in public, or complete a difficult timed math problem, and gave the subjects a mini mantra of either “I am calm”, “I am excited”, or “I am nervous”, showed consistently that those who stated loud that they were excited about the challenge performed better across all three categories.

So, the next time you’re nervous or worried, verbalize “excitement” to yourself instead. Don’t just use stress – transform it! You are welcome. 😉 I mean, c’mon, all you worriers out there (present company included): this is useful!

2. Take some action.

If there’s a looming to-do stressing you out, sometimes buckling down and, well, DOING something about it is a whole lot more productive than any number of calming techniques ever could be. If the “looming to-do” thing is stressing you because its a big “to-do” break it down into smaller tasks, and order them so it makes sense to you, and is no longer overwhelming. But start somewhere. Use stress for productivity!

3. Ask “What’s the worst-case scenario?”

Sometimes it’s best to face anxious thoughts head on. This is particularly helpful for social anxiety. Have to go to a social function and mingle with a bunch of strangers? What’s the worst case scenario? Maybe you won’t have anyone to talk to and will feel awkward. Play it out in your mind. Generally the reality will be much less than your worst case scenario so you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

4. Find something to be grateful for.

This one’s easy! Remember that relaxation is passive and doesn’t give our mind much to hold onto. Gratitude is related to feelings of satisfaction and joy. Find the gratitude in the stressful situation. When faced with a stressful situation, for instance, let’s say you have an upcoming colonoscopy. What’s good about it? You’re fortunate to have access to a procedure that can keep you healthy. Or how about being stressed about an overly booked social schedule? We’ve all been there. Use stress to remind yourself you’re grateful for all those friends you have that make your schedule busy.

5. Get ticked off.

Okay, well, a little ticked off. Anxiety is not only close to excitement on the scale of emotions but also to anger. PROCEED WITH CAUTION on this one: anger is easy, easier sometimes than identifying what’s causing the anger (fear, sadness, rejection) and too much anger can have toxic results. And approaching a person from a place of anger can be risky. But at the right place and time, productive anger is a useful. For instance, say you’re feeling anxious about a political or social injustice. Chanel that righteous anger and donate to a cause or write a letter.

6. Go to sleep.

We all know that a good night’s sleep can give us perspective on stuff that’s stressing us out. Personally, when I get home at the end of a long day, I simply can’t deal with the idea of having to return an email or phone call. Really? Yup. Nothing left in the tank. And it’s also when I’m most likely to make scheduling mistakes. So it waits til morning. Not even remotely stressful then.

7. Redefine relaxation.

What’s calming for one person might not work for you. DO NOT let other people define it for you. Where’s your happy place? I have plenty of friends who find the beach to be their stress free zone. I think beaches are beautiful, but there is zero part of a day at the beach that I find relaxing: gritty sand, sunburns, the water’s too cold to swim in, can’t read in the glare of the sun, wearing a bathing suit all day is freaking uncomfortable, the bathrooms are about a mile away, oh, and then there’s the fact that you have to lug a chair, towel, blah blah blah….Not worth it for me my friends. Camping however, is very relaxing to me.

So, give it some thought, and create an arsenal of things you usually find relaxing, so that you can pull from your bag of relaxation tricks in times of stress. Use stress to spark your own creativity and create your ideal relaxing situation.

Of course, sometimes we’re just plain old stressed. If you’re having trouble finding a way to use stress to your advantage, consider trying massage therapy. Not only will a massage help lower your stress, but also increase relaxation, relieve symptoms of depression and improve sleep!

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