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Make stress your ally for peak performance

Mary Thomas, Associate Editor, ATB, Jan 2019, Edmonton

Stress is not all that bad, it’s how you perceive stress that works against you.  Psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains that Stress Belief is the 15th cause of death in the US — not stress itself.Individuals who both perceived that stress affects their health and reported a large amount of stress had a 43% increased risk of premature death.

Stress has been linked to immune deficiency that may lead to ailments such as heart disease, mental health, and even cancer. It has been known to negatively affect our decision-making skills and judgment.

Despite the bad stigma stress has, there are a group of people who welcome itfor learning and growth. Stress can be used as a stimulus to improve performance. Stress becomes bad when it becomes chronic and persists for a long time.When you ruminate the same problem over time, it festers and saps your energy and your health.

Stress is the brain’s way of responding to a “fight or flight” situation. The heart beats faster, pumps maximum oxygen raising blood circulation, giving energy to the muscles and improving performance. Cortisol is released during these heightened situations making a person alert. However, increased levels of cortisol for a prolonged period may kill your brain cells and weaken your immune system leading to other ailments.

Several studies have shown that successful athletes, creatives, and peak performers intentionally seek out stress.Stress can be a great motivating force to learn because it helps the brain to focus.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Flow, elucidates the five-stage process that unifies creative people:

1. Preparation where you immerse themselves in challenging situations that arouse interest and curiosity. This may translate into anactivity you are hesitant to do but is required to improve yourself.

2. Incubation means “churning ideas below the threshold of consciousness.” You lay your work aside, clear your head and let your mind simply wander.

3. Insight where “aha” moments come. It doesn’t matter whether these ideas make sense at this point. You must capture every single thought that comes out and document them.

4. Evaluation on whether the insight is worth pursuing or not. Think thoroughly whether to dismiss the idea or not.

5. Elaboration produces the desired output, not always a guaranteed successful outcome. It may even mean a test of endurance and faith at times.

Josh Waitzkin, a successful chess player, shares in his book The Art of Learning that, “If you are interested in really improving as a performer, try incorporating the rhythm of stress and recovery into all aspects of your life.”

Make Stress Your Ally:

1. Identify the Skill You Want to Develop.

2. Introduce Stress

3. Incorporate Rest

4. Repeat the Cycle

Develop a “stress helps” mindset.  Research shows that those who adopted a “stress helps” mindset were more likely to seek out feedback and grow as a result of experiencing stress and had more adaptive cortisol profiles under acute stress (Crum, Salovey, & Achor, 2013).

Help others.  Helping behavior is a stress buffer and help given to others is a better predictor of health and well-being than social engagement or received social support.  In fact, experiencing stressful events significantly predicts increased mortality among those who had not helped others in the past year, but among those who had helped others, no association between stress and mortality was seen.

How does stress affect you? Please send in your insights to mary@asiantribune.ca

 

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