Psychologist Alia Crum suggests steps for rethinking your relationship with stress.
Make a list of some of the unproductive things you do when you're feeling pressured, such as procrastinate or raid the refrigerator. The next time you're engaging in one of these activities, the list can act as a trigger to help you recognise what's happening.
At that point, name your stress by saying something like "I'm stressed because I have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time." Noting your stress this way shifts the activity in your brain from the automatic, emotional centers, like the amygdala (the brain's fear centre), to the more conscious, thoughtful areas, like the prefrontal cortex. That allows you to feel more in control.
Research shows that avoiding stress can increase anxiety and worry. Instead, recognise that the more stressed you are, the more you care about the situation, and try to identify what issues or values are at stake. "It's easier to embrace stress when you see that it's connected with something deeply meaningful," says Crum.
It can also be helpful to consciously reframe some of the feelings. Seeing the jitters before a speech as excitement rather than stress, for instance, can bolster your confidence and performance.
Think about whether your response to stress works against you or helps you meet your goals. If you're upset that you weren't invited to a dinner party, recognise that it's a sign that social contact is meaningful to you. Then, instead of shunning your friends for excluding you, reach out to one you're close to and plan a dinner together. "By understanding why you're stressed, you can focus the energy it gives you on trying to achieve your goals," says Crum.
First published: 17 Feb 2020