Four strategies to change how you think about stress

By Ann Gomez
Jun 24, 2024
Four strategies to change how you think about stress
Photo credit: nadia_bormotova/iStock/Getty Images

How you think about stress is an excellent predictor of your success in being able to manage it….

Have you ever been on a turbulent flight? Most of us have experienced some type of scare, whether the threat was real or perceived, when flying.

If you’re like me, when faced with any sort of rough patch, you look to the flight attendants to determine if there is any real danger. If I don’t detect any visible reaction from the flight attendants, I know I can happily return to my work, or go back to reading, or listening to my current favourite podcast.

Now, I recognize the airlines train flight attendants not to panic even if there is imminent danger, but perception is everything. If the meal trays are out and snacks are still being delivered, I trust all is well.

Similarly, our own perception of stress influences how we manage stress in our lives. And our colleagues, family, and friends will look to us, in the same way we look to the flight attendants, to see how we respond during challenging times.

Stress is a normal and essential part of healthy development. Some stress even serves to optimize our performance. For example, it helps us focus before a big presentation or an important meeting.

But chronic stress becomes toxic. It affects our cardiovascular system, constricting our blood vessels and causing shortness of breath. It also:

  • Impedes our judgment
  • Weakens our decision-making
  • Reduces our attention span, and
  • Harms our mental health and wellbeing

In Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, author Dr. Robert Sapolsky describes how animals experience stress.

When zebras are being chased by a predator, they run with their lives on the line. But as soon as they outrun this threat, they go back to whatever they were doing before – grazing in the field, enjoying their next meal, or simply basking in the sun’s warmth. They’re not worried about “next time,” only what’s in their immediate control.

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We’re different from our animal friends because we can foresee possible future events and plan accordingly. This can lead us to ruminate and worry. It is this anticipation of adversity that leads to prolonged and unhealthy stress. Our human brains are wired for certainty.

The good news is we can effectively rewire ourselves using positive association to temper our typical stress response with a “challenge response”. This helps us perceive stress as our body’s way of preparing to face a challenge.

Consider the following strategies to help you adopt a more resilient mindset and manage day-to-day stress.

  1. Focus on probabilities – not possibilities

    Possibilities are endless, but ask yourself, what is probable? Try not to catastrophize. Yes, you may have issues to address along the way, but you are more than capable of handling any challenges as they arise.

    It may be useful to maintain a record of past successes (either in your memory or in a digital/visual format). This can boost your confidence to get you through the current pressure situation.

  2. Recognize we have multiple chances

    Just because something is a good opportunity doesn’t mean it’s our only opportunity. We have many opportunities for success. And most people need many opportunities before they succeed. When we take an “all or nothing” approach, we place too much pressure on ourselves to perform in any one situation.

  3. Focus on the task – not the outcome

    Focus on compiling your research, making a persuasive argument, writing the pitch. Don’t focus on whether you’ll receive the grant or land that book deal. By focusing only on what you can control, which is the task at hand, you’ll feel calmer and more prepared to do your best.

    But adopt a positive approach. Confidence strips away worry and anxiety. Tell yourself, “This will work. I will succeed.” Not: “I’ll never get this right! Why am I even bothering?”

  4. Take a breath and slow down

    When we move too fast, we often act before we’re ready. Unless you really are outrunning a hyena, take a moment to breathe. Taking a pause will help you focus and think more flexibly and creatively. When you notice a racing heart before a big presentation or challenging conversation, acknowledge your body is trying to give you more energy — and use this concept to your advantage.

    When we reframe high-pressure as a challenge, rather than a curse, we set ourselves up to thrive, and do our best work, improve our health, and overall life satisfaction.

I hope you can use these strategies to help nurture a more resilient mindset in yourself.

Ann Gomez is the founder and president of Clear Concept Inc, a global training organization. Ann has trained some of the world’s busiest people, helping them reclaim their time and empowering them to do their best work. She is also a speaker and a USA Today bestselling author. 

Originally published by Publication Coach.

For more strategies you can use to set yourself up for success, see Ann’s latest book, Workday Warrior: A Proven Path to Reclaiming Your Time, published by Dundurn Press, 2022. For more articles by Ann, please visit the Clear Concept website