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What's Your Stress Mindset? (And Why It Matters)

In a recent article I wrote about the importance of having a growth mindset in the context of stress management - appreciating that stress resilience is a skillset that needs to be learned and trained. But the significance of mindset goes beyond that. How you view stress - what it means to you - conditions how you respond, and how well you cope. In this article I explore the significance of stress mindset in the sense of what stress means.

My working definition of stress is what happens when you're challenged out of your comfort zone - to the point that your ability to cope is in doubt. From a more scientific viewpoint, we can say there is a stressor (trigger) and then a stress response, which includes a significant biological response, often labeled the fight or flight response.

What Is Stress Mindset?

Again, it's how you view stress, what it means to you.

  • Is it a threat - something that will negatively affect your emotional state, your performance (physical and mental), even your health?
  • Or is it a challenge that lifts you to a higher level of energy and performance? (i.e. the stress response is helping you cope.)

Why Stress Mindset Matters

A negative stress mindset views stress as harmful, a threat - and therefore something to be avoided, averted, maybe even suppressed. Negative consequences are:

  • You'll avoid challenges and opportunities for growth and development (as with a fixed mindset).
  • Trying to avoid stress, and in particular trying to suppress the body's stress response, actually amplifies it and makes the feeling of stress and anxiety worse, and probably longer lasting.
  • You can get locked into a state of chronic stress response, which is actually harmful (unlike short bursts of stress) - your stress mindset becomes self-fulfilling.

A positive stress mindset means stress is a challenge to be embraced, moving you to perform better. The stress response is your body's mobilising energy to help you meet the challenge. It feels like excitement, not anxiety. In other words, although there is still a physical stress response, it doesn't feel like stress at all.

What's Your Stress Mindset?

Here are four questions for you to think about, that will make clear your stress mindset.

  1. Do you believe the effects of stress are on the whole negative or positive?
  2. In your life, do you try to avoid stress or do you embrace it?
  3. How do you believe stress affects your well-being, health and vitality?
  4. How do you believe stress affects your performance and productivity, in your work but also beyond?

Key To A Positive Stress Mindset: Confidence & Willingness

If you realise you've got something of a negative stress mindset, how do you shift it to positive?

Realise the difference is how you view stress, what it means - not the stressor itself. To an extent you can just choose to see stress in a new light.

In practice you can do that to the extent that:

  • you're willing to experience (i.e. allow it to happen, don't fight it or resist it - that's what amplifies the stress response)
  • you're confident of your ability to recover - you know the feeling won't last, and you can calm down again.

Again, if you have these then stress effectively isn't even stress any more.

Resources For Building A Positive Stress Mindset

My stress resilience skills training with biofeedback and mindfulness programme aims to develop the skillset of stress resilience, or the ability to quickly and easily recover from stress - and thus with it, your confidence.

I recommend reading "The Upside of Stress: Why stress is good for you (and how to get good at it)" by Kelly McGonigal.

You can also check out these fascinating videos - the first a TED talk by Kelly McGonigal:

The next is a TED talk by Stanford psychologist Alia Crum:

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