Coping Under Pressure
Pressure is a daily fact of life. There are things in life that cause our stress levels to elevate. Whether it’s an impending deadline at work, trying to balance the demands of home and work, losing a job or a loved one or dealing with a chronic illness…pressure exits, and it’s not going anywhere.
So how do we deal with it in the most beneficial way possible? Let’s take a look at this and see what the research says.
The British Psychological Society has recently shared an interesting article that summarizes much of this research. There are specific things we can do to help us cope under pressure, and there are two kinds of pressure.
1. Chronic, which means it is on-going over time such as an illness or ongoing deadlines at work. Chronic stress is on-going.
2. Acute – or single event stress such as public speaking at a meeting, running in a race, a big presentation or job interview. Acute stress has a begin time and an end time.
One of the things that makes a tremendous difference in how individuals handle stress is the stress mindset.
If you are aware of or recognize that things that are stressful can actually help you accomplish things, stress can be very helpful. In fact, that’s its real purpose. Stress can sharpen our focus, strengthen our motivation, and offer opportunities for both learning and achieving. If you look at stress this way, you have a “positive” stress mindset.
However, if you view stress as unpleasant, harmful, debilitating, and negative this is when stress can be exactly that.
Anxiety happens when our fear is out of proportion with the actual threat. It is good to have stress hormones course through our body when our life is in danger, but we sometimes start perceiving situations that are not life-threatening, as though they were. It’s all based on how we think about it.
Again, the power of our thoughts! How we think about things, makes a difference in how we feel about them, which impacts our actions and our health.
Remember…our thoughts lead to our emotions which motivate our actions. We can’t have an emotion or an action without a thought. And we have complete control over what and how we think!
Research indicates that people with a positive stress mindset come up with positive coping strategies that boost their performance. A study in 2017 by Anne Casper found that when people know they are facing a challenging day – a positive stress mindset can increase their performance and make them feel more energized. Whereas with a negative stress mindset, the exact opposite happens.
This isn’t just for adults. Alia Crum, a researcher at Stanford has applied this research to adolescents and found that when youth can learn a positive stress mindset, they are much more resilient when faced with the challenges of adolescence.
If we know a positive stress mindset helps us handle life’s difficulties and can actually help us be more focused, motivated, and energized…then let’s teach this to our kids! Let’s model this for our children!
But what do we do if we have a negative stress mindset? Can our mindset regarding stress be changed?
1. It turns out media can be helpful for this. When you watch movies or shows or read books about characters overcoming stressful situations in a positive way…it makes it possible in your mind for you to do the same. You actually begin to grow new neural pathways that look for positive outcomes from stressful situations.
2. I’m not a fan of scary movies, but some research suggests they can be helpful, too. When we watch a scary movie it has a way of recalibrating our brain to where our stress doesn’t seem so bad. Now I’m not advocating you show your kids scary movie, I’m just saying we calibrate our scenarios to those around us. Sometimes when we see how stressful someone else’s life is, ours may not feel so stressful.
3. There is more and more evidence that a cheerful perspective on life, finding the good in things, leads to a positive stress mindset. Remember, we can re-wire neural pathways. The more we think of stress as a manageable thing the easier that thought becomes.
4. Support from a friend. A text message, note, phone call from a loved one can help us look at a stressful situation as less-daunting. We know we are going to be loved and accepted regardless of the outcome.
In wrapping this up, how we look at stress helps determine how well we will cope with it.
I believe that stress is a perception of lack of control. We feel stressed by things that seem outside of our control. And yet how others drive is out of our control, and yet that doesn’t keep us from getting in the car and driving to work.
How we frame things, our perspective is so crucial.
So if we see stress as an inevitable part of life, we understand our value and worth is not tied to how we perform, we prepare faithfully and put forth our best effort, we can move forward with a positive stress mindset and actually be more focused and energized.
As we think positively and talk to ourselves in a positive manner, our amygdala, the part of our brain responsible for first sensing danger or threat, stays under control and we can continue to think clear minded, and manage the stress to actually work well for us and help us accomplish what needs to be accomplished.
As we make this choice about how we think about potentially stressful situations, we are not only serving ourselves well, but also modeling it for our children!