Guest contribution by Polly Campbell
I was standing along the top edge of an ancient stone wall in Tuscany, freaking out.
Then, the friend I was with turned to me and said, “Maybe it isn’t anxiety you are feeling. Perhaps it’s excitement.”
In a moment my experience changed. I still felt uncomfortable being so high up without a rail, but I was no longer debilitated by it. I was able to take in the stunning scenery, explore the other parts of the castle wall, engage in the experience.
Stress is a part of our daily lives but how we view our own stress response determines in large part how successful we’ll be.
In a study published in Clinical Psychological Science, psychologist Jeremy Jamieson found that participants who were faced with a stressful public speaking challenge did better when they were told in advance that the stress response their body experienced — sweaty palms, increased heart rate — was actually there to help them cope.
Instead of seeing those signs as a negative occurrence, they were taught to view them as part of the body’s natural, healthy response. That shift in perception helped them adapt to the stressful circumstance and thrive.
Some Stress Can Help
Some stress can even be helpful, if we learn to manage it properly.
A short burst of stress can actually strengthen our immune function, according to the Stanford University Center for Stress and Health Management. It can also fire-up our brain function, improve our resilience, and according to some research, it can cause us to be more generous and friendly.
Ongoing chronic stress, though, can make us sick, dissatisfied, depressed and stuck. So, the key is to not eliminate the stress altogether – who can do that anyhow right? – but, it is to use it in a way that actually improves our performance.
Reframing your stress response, is one way to do it. Next time you are stressed and feeling the pressure of the moment ask yourself “Is this excitement or is this anxiety?”
Then, acknowledge that everything you are feeling is there to help you thrive in the moment. Simply knowing this will help you move toward greater success rather than being threatened by the stress of it all.
Polly Campbell is the author of Imperfect Spirituality: Extraordinary Enlightenment for Ordinary People (Viva Editions, 2012) and How to Reach Enlightenment (Hodder, 2012). She is a motivational speaker, writer and blogger at www.imperfectspirituality.com, The Huffington Post and Psychology Today.