I’ve always had a difficult time handling stress. I remember a performance review from over a decade ago when my boss sat me down and said to me:
“Mark, you’re just no good under pressure.”
I knew he was right and his comment has stayed with me to this day. The problem was that he didn’t provide any guidance as to how to become any better at handling pressure. I assumed I was stuck that way.
This was an inescapable shortcoming or character flaw I was destined to live with for the rest of my life. Right?
Fast forward several years and there I was unable to sleep, tossing and turning because of a deadline coming up at work that my team was completely unprepared to meet. As I lay there agonizing over these things, an article came to mind that I had read a couple weeks earlier.
The article focused on something I found really interesting about how the physiological symptoms of stress (rapid heart rate, sweaty palms, etc) are far more closely related to excitement than to what we experience when we're relaxed.
The article went on to suggest that it’s much more difficult to try and “calm down” when feeling stressed than it is to get excited.
I had also recently read the book “Mind Hacking” by John Hargrave so the idea that we are able to re-direct our minds was fresh in my own. We don’t have to be mercilessly tossed around by every thought that enters our head. So I thought
“Why not give it a try?”
I starting thinking about how great it would be if everything came together and the project was a huge success. What would that look like? I started to plan out how the pieces would come together. I could feel the excitement starting to build. What actions could I take to move things forward? I felt empowered!
In a matter of minutes I went from crippling anxiety to barely being able to contain my excitement. Mind you, I was still lying in bed and it’s not particularly easy to fall asleep when your mind is racing with excitement either.
Nonetheless, when I did fall asleep it was with a big smile on my face; and the smile was there when I woke up the following morning.
I have used that approach several times since that night with similar results. Reframe the situation to focus on the excitement of the challenge and your mind automatically gets to work generating possible solutions.
It feels like magic.
So next time you feel the urge to curl into a ball or wish you could disappear or maybe sleep for a month, try redirecting your thoughts. Try turning your stress inward and embrace it for a change.
Stress can actually be a good thing!
It gives you the energy, strength and adrenaline you need to power through what needs to get done. No one can live in a perpetual state of stress of course and there are levels of stress that can be harmful. Still, finding the positive value in stressful situations is turning out to be a life changer for me.
My hope is that it will be for you too.