Managing stress with mindset

Managing stress with mindset

The stress response is a natural physical and emotional reaction that our body has to protect us from perceived danger or threat. When we experience stress, our bodies release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which trigger a series of changes in our bodies, like an increased heart rate, faster breathing, and tense muscles.

These changes help us respond to the stressor in the short term, but if stress is ongoing or chronic, it can have negative effects on our health and well-being. Chronic stress can lead to symptoms like fatigue, headaches, difficulty sleeping, and a weakened immune system.

Women may experience stress differently from men due to hormonal differences, societal expectations, and roles in caretaking responsibilities. Additionally, women are more likely to experience stress related to discrimination, sexism, and gender-based violence. 

It's important for women to take care of themselves and manage stress in healthy ways, such as exercise, mindfulness practices, self-care activities, seeking social and professional support and mindset.

Managing stress with mindset

Managing stress with mindset

There are generally two mindsets we can have towards stress: a growth mindset and a fixed mindset.

A fixed mindset towards stress views stress as a negative experience that should be avoided. People with a fixed mindset tend to believe that their abilities are fixed and unchangeable and that stress is an indication of their limitations. As a result, they may avoid challenges and opportunities that could lead to growth and development, and may feel helpless and overwhelmed when faced with stressors.

On the other hand, a growth mindset towards stress views stress as a potential opportunity for learning and growth. People with a growth mindset tend to believe that their abilities can be developed and improved through effort and practice, and that stress can be a catalyst for personal growth and development. As a result, they may embrace challenges and opportunities for growth, and may feel more resilient and capable when faced with stressors.

Eustress and distress

Managing stress with mindset - eustress

Developing a growth mindset towards stress can help you approach stressors with a sense of empowerment and opportunity for personal growth, rather than a sense of helplessness and avoidance. This can lead to better mental and emotional health, increased resilience, and improved overall well-being.

This type of interaction with stress is referred to as eustress and it is a positive form of stress having a beneficial effect on us. This type of stress can:

  • help you cope with potentially serious situations (fight or flight)
  • help you face challenges
  • help you stay motivated
  • complete tasks
  • achieve goals

Psychologist Dr. Kara Fasone says eustress is all about sufficiently challenging yourself without expending all your resources. This type of stress empowers you to grow in three areas:

  • Emotionally, eustress can result in positive feelings of contentment, inspiration, motivation, and flow.
  • Psychologically, eustress helps us build our self-efficacy, autonomy, and resilience.
  • Physically, eustress helps us build our body (e.g., through completing a challenging workout). {source}

Some examples where stress can help performance as follows:

  • Sports competition - a moderate amount of stress can help athletes perform better, as it can increase their focus, motivation, and physical response. For example, an athlete may feel stressed before a game or competition, but that stress can help them perform better by increasing their adrenaline and alertness.
  • Public speaking - some stress can help improve public speaking performance. A moderate level of stress can help individuals feel more energised, focused, and motivated to deliver a good speech. It can also help individuals remember important points and stay engaged with their audience.
  • Test-taking - a small amount of stress can help students perform better on exams. A moderate level of stress can help individuals stay focused, alert, and motivated to do well on the test.

But there is no doubt that stress can negatively impact our wellbeing and this is referred to as distress some examples where stress can affect us negatively are as follows:

  • Chronic stress -  is long-term stress that canhave negative effects on physical and mental health. Chronic stress can cause fatigue, anxiety, depression, and other health problems, which can negatively impact performance in all areas of life.
  • Overwhelming stress - when stress becomes too overwhelming, it can negatively affect performance. For example, too much stress at work can lead to burnout, decreased productivity, and increased mistakes.
  • High-pressure situations - in some high-pressure situations, such as emergency medical situations or crisis management, stress can negatively impact performance if individuals become too overwhelmed and make mistakes.

Overall, stress can have positive or negative effects on performance depending on the level of stress and the individual's response to stress. It's important to find healthy ways to manage stress to ensure that it doesn't become overwhelming and negatively affect performance.

How can we change our mindset to manage stress

Managing stress with mindset - change

Changing our mindset in stressful situations can help us view stress as an opportunity for growth and development, rather than a threat. Here are some ways we can change our mindset to help us:

  • Reframe stress as a challenge - instead of seeing stress as an obstacle or threat, we can view it as a challenge to overcome. We can try to find meaning and purpose in the stressor, and see it as an opportunity to develop new skills or perspectives.
  • Reframe stress as excitement - physical responses to stress and excitement can be similar and can include increased heart rate, sweating, skin tingling, increased rate of breathing and dilate pupils. You may feel this before a presentation, job interview or sporting competition that means a lot to you. Recognise these responses and process them as a response to you being excited about an activity that you care about or are looking forward to. Perceiving our emotions in this way can give us the confidence we need to perform. 
  • Focus on the positive - when facing stress, we can try to focus on the positive aspects of the situation. We can look for opportunities to learn, grow, or connect with others, and try to see the stressor as a chance to develop resilience and adaptability, not something that is going to pull us down.

Changing your mindset is not going to solve chronic stress from over work and significant family issues for example, you will need to make sure you are getting adequate support and making changes to decrease stress, But by changing our mindset towards short term stressful situations and viewing them as an opportunity for growth and development or an exciting opportunity, we can better manage stress and use it to our advantage.

The role of stress mindset in shaping cognitive, emotional, and physiological responses to challenging and threatening stress - Alia J Crum, Modupe Akinola, Ashley Martin, Sean Fath

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