How to make stress your cheerleader

Think of stress differently: perhaps it's there to cheer your performance.

Think of stress differently: perhaps it’s there to cheer your performance.

Stress doesn’t always have to be bad. The sweaty palms, dry mouth and butterflies in your stomach can be turned to your advantage – if you just think about stress differently.

Stress symptoms before speaking in public, for example, can be just the same as an extreme ‘fight or flight’ reaction. It can feel like something bad is about to happen. “But those feelings just mean that our body is preparing to address a demanding situation,” says Jeremy Jamieson, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “The body is marshalling resources, pumping more blood to our major muscle groups, and delivering more oxygen to our brains.”

Jeremy researched the impact of stress by putting two groups of people – some of whom were prone to social anxiety disorder – in a stressful public-speaking situation. One group was told about the positive aspects of stress, and was asked to interpret any stress symptoms as beneficial. A second group was given no preparation about stress. Unsurprisingly, members of the first group felt they had more resources to cope with the task, even those with social anxiety disorder, and their physiological responses were less extreme than the second group.

Jeremy says: “Our experience of acute or short-term stress is shaped by how we interpret physical cues. We construct our own emotions.”

  • Think of stress as giving you that extra edge to your performance. The adrenalin is there to help, not hinder you.
  • Reframing the way you think about stress can help make it your master, not your servant.
  • If you feel butterflies coming on, breathe in the adrenalin from your belly through your nose. Breathe it back out through the muscles of your body, visualising that it’s touching the furthest reaches of your finger and toes. 
  • That way, stress can become your cheerleader, not your enemy.

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