If you like the feeling of stress raise your hand. No one? No takers? That's right — a great majority of us would rather sit without butterflies in our tummies than with, but there are ways to make stress work for you if only you change your frame of mind. I know what you're thinking: That there's no way that quiet panic, sweaty-palm feeling, bury-my-head-behind-a-blanket reaction could possibly be a positive part of your life. But while anxiety over looming deadlines or rocky relationships can make you break out into stress blotches, it can also act as a motivator, a red flag, an ego-booster, and the catalyst for you to find your voice of reason. The only time it has to stay a negative feeling is if you choose to make it so.
By now you're probably thinking of the last time you were nervous and shaking your head no. Say it was over a missed deadline at work. How could that blunder and the wringing-hands-sensation afterwards have been a good thing? Well, it taught you that you value your work and are uncomfortable with not handing in a hundred percent. It also taught you an important lesson to start earlier, and it highlighted that you know you had the talent to do it right, if only you gave yourself enough time. See? A different mind frame and a different outcome. Below are seven ways to make stress work for you, not against you!
1. It'll Help Kick Your Fears' Butts
When you're feeling stressed out, take a moment to stop spiralling and instead think about what trigger is making you think you can't overcome your obstacle. If you have a deadline at work, is your stress making you think you don't have the talent or knowledge to pull through in time? Or if your stress is stopping you from trying something new, is it hinting that you can't succeed? Think about what it's hinting at, and then remind yourself that it's not true, using that original stress to kick your fears' butts.
Clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, PsyD told entrepenuer site Fast Company, "Look for the part of the stress or anxiety response tricking you into thinking you can’t handle it. That part is the part that drives you to avoid doing what you need to do." Instead of succumbing to your anxiety and making it stop you from achieving your goals, use it as a flag for self-doubts and put-downs. Then, take those negatives right out of the situation with the knowledge that they're just that: Not true.
2. Use It As A Lesson For Next Time
Did you take too long to start on a project? Did you book a ticket too late and now you're in a pickle? Did you not prepare well enough for a big meeting and now you're anxious? It's not a good spot to be in, but use that stress as a lesson for next time. Review what you did wrong and learn your lesson to not repeat past mistakes.
Clark suggested, "Put your anxiety to work by listening to what’s causing it, paying particular attention to those factors, and using your heightened state of awareness to do a better job." In this way, your stress is a positive. It's alerting you that you didn't do your best job, and it'll make sure you don't do it again.
3. Use It To Help You Become Braver
If you pay close attention to what your anxiety is stopping you from doing, you can react in a way that's defiant and stubborn. Instead of listening to how your stress is saying "No you can't," answer with a "Yes I can." That kind of mentality will make you braver and ready to roll up your sleeves and do whatever hard or uncomfortable thing needs to come next.
Stanford University lecturer Kelly McGonigal, PhD, told CNN, "When you view stress as inherently harmful, you shy away from things that are difficult and meaningful, whether that's repairing a relationship or seeking out a promotion." If you view it as a motivator instead — or something you have to prove wrong — it makes you more courageous to take that next plunge ahead.
4. Let It Help You Realize What You're Capable Of
Another great way to reframe stress is to not see it as the enemy, but to see it in a positive light. Think about it: You're stressed right now because something matters. You don't want to mess up and lose the opportunity you're about to try for, so that only makes you want to work harder for it. View your anxiety in a positive light by restructuring it into a "flag" that you have something in your hands that's important, and that you have the skills to turn it into a hole in one.
McGonigal explained, "Studies show that people who think of stress this way are more likely to feel like they have the resources to handle it, such as self-efficacy and self-confidence." If you don't see stress as the enemy, you remember that you're competent and smart enough to manage. Don't let it break you — let it raise you up.
5. It's Not Making You "Nervous," It's Making You "Excited"
If you think about stress in a negative context, it turns almost into a self-prophecy. The nerves will only take away your concentration and you'll have a greater chance of messing up. So instead of viewing it as a stressor, see it as a feeling of excitement. A deadline is looming, a big presentation is coming, a first date is around the corner — whatever it is, see your butterflies as feelings of total excitement. It's like the equivalent of smearing war paint on. That will help you to go slay whatever you're about to slay.
Lifestyle writer Abigail Wise from Real Simple wrote, "So the next time you feel your palms sweating before a big presentation, tell yourself that your body is ramping up to help you stay more alert and do your very best." Those are good butterflies, not bad!
6. Use It To Make You Take Action
If you're feeling stressed about something, chances are you think there's a good chance of something going wrong. So use that stress to draft up a battle plan to make sure nothing does go askew. It's like your nudge to get moving.
Lifestyle writer Gail Saltz at ABC wrote, "Ask yourself, 'Is this something that's about to happen or something that might happen in a faraway, imaginary future? Do I have any control over the outcome?' Try to take steps to manage what you can — finally setting up your 401(k) so you don't go broke, spending more one-on-one time with your spouse to remind yourself of your solid relationship." This way you don't have to wait for something to go wrong in order to fix it — stress gives you a leg up on the situation.
7. Let It Highlight The Things That Are Important For You
When you're worried about something, it means that you put a lot of stock into it. And the more things you worry about, the more things you hold dear. When put into that kind of light, stress isn't such a bad sign, is it?
McGonigal told the Washington Post, "Think of stress as a signal of meaning, not that you’re inadequate to the challenges in life. Trust your human capacity to transform stress into something good — compassion, hope, meaning. People who are more stressed out, who worry more, surveys show, are also more likely to say their lives are meaningful."
So the next time you feel like you're about to snap underneath all of your stress, think of how great it is that you have so many meaningful, exciting, challenging things in your life. Stress is a great motivator — don't see it as the enemy any longer!