A feeling of dread passed through my body.
My heart was pounding, my hands moist with sweat. At least the forms they asked me to complete were filled in, every last box —that made me feel good, and distracted me for a moment from how important the next hour of my life would be.
“No, no it’s fine, it’s nothing,” I said after spilling the coffee on the white shirt I’d bought less than 24 hours earlier. “They’ve got me, now for sure they know I’m nervous,” I thought while rubbing my front ferociously with my hand.
The motion helped me release some of the nervous energy, and my mind instantly came back to answering the question they’d asked some moments ago.
But no words came.
I’m sure the next 45 minutes happened, but I fail to remember them. Stress had overcome me and consumed all in its path. Yet again another job had passed me by.
As a bodily response, stress has one of the worst reputations.
How much stress have you experienced in the last year? Or even in the last week? Chances are it’s more than you would have liked. Stress is what makes us dread getting out of bed in the mornings. Stress is what makes us loose our temper with loved ones. Stress is what makes us feel run down, irritated, anxious, even sick.
Stress is the enemy
There’s even a host of scientific research to prove it. We’ve discovered stress is not only an inconvenience in our lives, but a precursor to a number of health issues including cardiovascular and heart disease.
So when someone tells you stress is good for your body, you’re permitted to adorn a look of disbelief and utter something along the lines of, “Well, you haven’t met my kids.”
“[Stress is] the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.”
~ Hans Selye
The racing heart, the rapid breathing, the tightening of the body; these are all feelings we are familiar with when encountering new and challenging situations.
This is your body’s stress response letting you know you need to be ready for action, and helping you best prepare to take it.
What do these feelings remind you of most? Presentations, intense exchanges with family, friends or strangers, the small but excruciatingly annoying bad habits of your partner; when it comes to thinking about stress, we’ve definitely no shortage of negative experiences to draw from.
Many of these experiences will always cause stress — it’s just a fact. But that doesn’t mean they have to all be negative.
By simply changing how you think about stress, it’s possible to change how it affects you — both in the short and long term.
Changing the way we think about stress
As individuals with our own thoughts and experiences, stress is what we subjectively believe it be. A public speaker can deliver a speech in front of thousands of people without so much as breaking a sweat, whereas others can’t bring themselves to utter a word in front of a group of three.
The seasoned public speaker and the sweaty-palmed introvert are both experiencing the same response to stress; one just believes it’s helping them and is using it to their advantage, while the other believes it’s a hindrance and is allowing it to destroy them.
Recent research has shown when measuring the effects of stress on those who hold the belief that stress is bad for them, blood vessels constrict — demonstrating why it’s often associated with cardiovascular disease.
But when researchers conducted the same test, this time on people who hold the belief that stress is good for them, they found blood vessels stayed relaxed — showing a similar response to that of moments of joy and courage.
This goes to say you don’t need to get rid of the stress in your life. In fact, you’d be much better of with it.
Next time you feel it rising inside of you, take a moment to notice it and remember, stress is inevitable, but ending up in an anxious mess in the corner is not.
This is of course not as easy as it sounds, but it does become easier with time — just look at the likes of Churchill or Aristotle who overcame stammers and fears of public speaking to become two of the best orators in history.
The first step is realisation. The next is to consciously change your mind about how you believe stress affects you.
If you do this, there’s no boundaries to what you can go and and achieve.