Stressed Out? 3 Secrets to Make Stress Work for You

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

How does a homeless woman change her life and graduate from Harvard? How do Navy Seals overcome the most difficult training program known to man? What separates the thrivers from the survivors? We all experience stress in thousands of ways each day, but the way we respond to it is highly variable. Those respond positively to stress are the ones who succeed. So, how do you thrive on stress?

1. Name your stress

Stress is an umbrella term to cover a variety of emotions. We feel frightened when we need to fight or run. We feel depressed when we aren’t doing what we love. We feel frantic when there seems to be too much to do in too little time. One thing that separates thrivers from survivors is their ability to identify the stressful emotion they are feeling.

Much like the impossibility of hitting a moving target blindfolded, responding positively to emotions you don’t recognize is a crapshoot. Emotions are like flares signaling hidden needs; when you take the time to identify them, you’ll address your most pressing needs.

Think of it like this: If you don’t own your emotions, they will own you. If you want to be resilient and in charge of your emotions, ask yourself these questions when you start to feel overwhelmed by stress: How do I feel? What need does this feeling signal? What can I do to respond positively to these feelings?

Take this example of an office relationship: A colleague you are working on a project with has ignored your input and feedback. You might feel pissed off, enraged, or upset — for good reason. You have three options: respond positively, respond negatively, or don’t respond at all. Positive responses to stress enhance connection; negative responses inhibit connection; and non-responses repress emotions.

You identify your feeling of anger, which is telling you that you need to feel respected and connected. The guy who is disrespecting you may not even realize how you feel and how it is impacting your work relationship, so it is up to you to tell him in a nonviolent way that focuses on your needs. “John, I feel angry when my opinion isn’t considered because I need to be involved in the projects that I’m assigned to. Would you please acknowledge my contributions and work with me on this?”

The greatest need of human beings is to be connected with others, and we can use any emotion to enhance our connection. Those who use their emotions as bridges to connect with others will thrive, while those who burn bridges may not survive.

2. Take ownership of your responses

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How many times have you heard excuses for unacceptable behavior like, “It’s just the way I am”? Those who thrive are the ones who take ownership of their responses. In order to do that, one must separate their actions from who they are.

Thrivers know that the reason they fail isn’t who they are; it’s what they do. If you associate shortcomings with who you are as a person, you won’t give yourself an opportunity to adapt to the stresses you face.

If there was ever an excuse to respond poorly to a situation, it certainly would be finding yourself trapped in a Nazi death camp, right? Most of the people rescued from those camps resembled walking skeletons — they were barely alive. One man, however, was different. When Allied forces liberated him from a prison camp, he hadn’t lost any weight and was in robust health. He was studied, and scientists and psychologists were fascinated by his case. What allowed him to thrive? Was it his genes, or something else?

“For six years he had lived on the same starvation diet, slept in the same airless and disease ridden barracks as everyone else, but without the least physical or mental deterioration,” describes psychiatrist George Ritchey in his book, Return from Tomorrow.

When the prison camp survivor was asked his secret, he replied, “I had to decide whether to let myself hate the soldiers who had done this… I had seen, too often, what hate could do. Hate had just killed the six people who mattered most to me in the world. I deeded then that I would spend the rest of my life, whether it was a few days or many years, loving every person I came into contact with.”

You can always choose to love no matter what you do. It might seem like a fluffy concept, but if you respond to your stressors with kindness, empathy, respect, vulnerability, and courage, you will thrive.

3. Meditate

breathing, meditation

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Thrivers perform at the height of their capabilities because they expect the best from themselves and focus on responding positively to the world around them. Not surprisingly, executives and officers around the globe are turning to meditation as a means of programming positive responses into their identity.

The biggest thing that keeps people from thriving is limiting beliefs. Limiting beliefs are thoughts that repeat throughout your day, often subconsciously. Thrivers are the ones who recognize that their beliefs are responsible for the success they are or aren’t experiencing.

Meditation is a tool that gives you access to subconscious thoughts. Take the first 15 minutes of your day to reflect on how you feel, what kind of person you want to be, and what thoughts have been driving your life. Focus on your breathing and envision the accomplishments you will achieve. Look for the positive.

People who thrive are the ones who consistently remind themselves of what they are accomplishing, how they’re going to do it, and how they will respond to the unexpected.

Want to learn more about thriving on stress? Keep an eye out for the second installment in this series, which includes four more ways you can use stress to succeed.

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