You have probably heard that stress is good at low levels even though it’s bad at high levels. That may seem hard to put into practice? How do you stop the stress wagon once it starts rolling? It helps to know the job that stress is designed to do.
Stress revs up your body to tackle a challenge. Good stress is adrenaline and bad stress is cortisol. Good stress tells your body to invest a lot of energy right now because you have a good opportunity to meet your needs. Bad stress tells your body that you have failed to meet your needs, so you better try something else. Stress is your brain’s signal that something is at stake. Of course, something is always at stake, so you can end up with a lot of stress unless you change your mindset. You can train yourself to know you will be fine regardless of the outcome of this particular challenge.
Olympic athletes at the starting line have good reason to think the stakes are high. You have good reason to think the stakes are high when your boss or your lover wants to have a talk. You may think it’s foolish to think the outcome doesn’t matter. But if you want to turn down the stress, that’s what you have to do.
It’s easy to see why when you know how our brain chemicals work in animals. In the state of nature, animals face the constant threat of starvation if they fail to find food. The brain evolved to motivate this quest. Good stress fuels a lion when it sees a gazelle it can catch. Bad stress tells the lion to stop chasing the gazelle that got away. Good stress fuels a monkey when it sees a ripe fruit at the top of a tree, and bad stress tells it to stop climbing on branches that can’t support its weight. The idea that animals are at peace is an illusion. They evolved a brain that responds urgently to opportunities and threats. Your mammal brain will seethe with urgency unless you use your extra neurons to rewire it.
You can tell yourself “I have successfully met my needs before, and one way or another I will do it again.” You will have to tell yourself that over and over because your brain was not designed to sit around feeling good about your ability to meet your needs.
What will happen to your good stress if you do this? Most of the time you are better off without it. An Olympic athlete is better off without the idea that everything rides on the next few moments. You are better off facing your boss or lover without the belief that “everything rides on this.” You benefit from the knowledge that you can be fine regardless of the outcome. It may be hard to get off the couch sometimes. It may seem like good stress is needed to get going. But bad stress is probably what’s keeping you on the couch. You are better off knowing there’s a world of opportunity out there, and you have the skill to manage the threats.
Does this seem hard to do? That’s because negative expectations have become a superhighway in your brain. The electricity in your brain uses the pathways you have built from past experience. Your stress will not stop unless you build a new pathway to give your electricity a new place to flow. Repeat a positive expectation half as often as you repeat your negative expectations and the new pathway will start to feel natural. More on how to do this in my new book, The Science of Positivity: Stop Negative Thought Patterns By Changing Your Brain Chemistry.