Stress. Ugh. There is so much in our daily life that stresses us out. But did you know that stress can actually be - good? That we can use it to our advantage? That's right. There are different kinds of stress, some of which help us rather than hurt. Knowing the difference between the types and knowing how to respond to them can help you leverage stress to help rather than hurt your wellbeing.
Acute stress is a temporary state that sort of keeps you on your toes. Usually, acute stress is good for you. Acute stress happens when you are taking a test, when you give a presentation in front of a crowd or if you need to brake quickly when a car pulls out in front of you. It creates a select awareness that puts you at peak performance in trying situations.
But chronic stress is different. It lasts longer, feels overwhelming and is omnipresent. Chronic stress can be caused by things like mounting bills, strained relationships, professional uncertainty, and living a life that is not aligned with your values. The effects of chronic stress are many, and typically not great. They can include problems sleeping, strained relationships, pain, stomach problems, forgetfulness, chronic illness and much more.
Here is the thing. Everyone experiences stress. And that includes chronic stress too. So why are some people seemingly impervious to the effects of stress? Mindset. When stress is seen through the lens of positivity its effects are limited. This is the power of a growth mindset. When a growth mindset is used, stress is seen as an opportunity to stretch, grow and learn. When challenges present themselves, it is embraced as an opportunity rather than pushed away.
Let's use an example. According to Pew Research about 15% of Americans are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied at work. When work is consistently not going well it can cause chronic stress. Maybe there are rumors of layoffs, your wages have stagnated, or your supervisor is a micro-manager, these things can really take its toll on your chronic stress levels, your happiness, and your health. A person with a fixed mindset may believe that there is no relief valve for the stress, no opportunity for change, and that the challenges at work are too insurmountable so why bother to even try to change the circumstances. The person with a growth mindset will see this stress through the lens of opportunity, thinking that perhaps this is the right time to “retool” by taking some continuing education classes, to seek a different position in the company that allows you to “skill up”, or maybe it is the right time to go back to school and change professions entirely. The outcome of the stress response is determined by your mindset and hence choice, good or bad.
Next time you are feeling that sense of overwhelm or dissatisfaction with something in your life, first be mindful. Ask yourself, “am I seeking any opportunity for growth in this situation or am I just feeling stuck”. Then try actively flip your mindset to that of growth rather than fixed, and in doing so you can marvel at the possibilities!