The stress mindset is the overarching belief that stress is either enhancing or debilitating for cognitive, psychological, affective, and hormonal outcomes. Individuals with a “stress-is-enhancing” mindset see daily life stressors as challenges for which they have adequate resources to meet expected demands.
What impact does stress have on our brains?
Whilst there can be some serious outcomes from prolonged exposure to stress (that I have experienced myself), research suggests that stress can be good for you. The research indicates that our mindset about how we perceive stress, whether we view it as bad or helpful, can profoundly influence how our body and brain react to stress.
Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University and author of The Upside of Stress, talks about this in her TEDTalk: how to make stress your friend. This talk details the research that supports the idea that if we change our mindset about stress, we can change its impact on us, including seeing stress as a challenge response (an opportunity).
The research she refers to in her ted talk studies 30,000 adults over eight years and asks them two questions – how much stress have you experienced in the past year, and secondly, do you believe stress is harmful?
Then they examined their death records to see who had passed away. Of these, people who reported that they experienced a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43% increased risk of dying, but this was only true for the people who believed stress is harmful. The people who experienced a lot of stress but didn’t see it as harmful were no more likely to die.
Other researchers refer to the importance of a stress mindset and suggest we can have either:
- stress is a debilitating mindset
- stress is an enhancing mindset (which links with the concept of seeing as a challenge response).
Neuroscience explains behaviour in terms of the brain’s activities, how the brain marshals its billions of individual nerve cells to produce behaviour, and how these cells are influenced by the environment.
Knowing how people function and think can transform your business and engagement results.
There are four core areas we can use to enhance your ability to improve
- Decision-making, problem-solving and innovating capability
- Regulate our emotions and renew our energy resources
- Collaborating, influencing, developing and engaging
- Adaptability and dealing with change in brain-friendly ways.
Neuroscience can change perceptions
If you expect stress to be harmful, then it will be. Stress is not the enemy; it is how we perceive it.
- You can change how your body treats stress and not view physical changes as negative; instead, see them as helpful and rise to the challenge when presenting or dealing with conflict or pressure.
- Think of your stress responses as helpful for performance, making you feel less anxious and more confident.
How you think about stress matters – stress can make you feel more social, leveraging Oxytocin, a hormone that plays a role in social bonding, motivating you to seek support and connection.
Other Oxytocin benefits are it’s a natural anti-inflammatory, helps heart cells regenerate, strengthens your heart, and when you reach out to others to seek support, it can assist with healing physically and mentally.
How you think, and act can transform the experience of stress.
Knowing what peak performance and flow look like for you in a day and identifying the distress triggers that send you over the edge.
Stress hormones and performance graph:
As you can see from this graph, low performance and low-stress hormones can equal boredom; we need some stress levels to perform at our best. It can be a fine line between high performance and slipping down the curve to high stress.
What does peak performance look like for you?
What are the triggers of high stress?
What strategies could you use to prevent high stress or distress?
Would you like to learn how your organisation and your teams can use the stress mindset to enhance performance in your organisation?