Everyone knows that stress is bad for us. It hurts our physical health by increasing the risk of chronic conditions such as a stroke. However, new studies have found that stress isn’t always damaging. It can actually give us a boost that improves our mental performance and physical health. Further, we can shift our physiology from a harmful state to a helpful one during a stressful even such as a presentation or important meeting.
If you face a threat, your heart beats faster, blood is diverted away from the gut and sexual organs and towards the limbs and brain, digestion slows and fat and glucose are release into the bloodstream to fuel your next move. This fight or flight response is controlled by stress hormones released into the blood steam, including adrenaline and cortisol as well as the sympathetic nervous system. It has evolved to help us survive emergences, but humans worry all the time – even about things that have already happened or may never happen at all.
So, we are on constant alert, which damages our body to a considerable extent. However, we can stop is with stress-busting techniques. Mindful meditation helps us distance ourselves from worries and we’re encourages to recognize that negative thoughts don’t represent reality and are only fleeting.
However, not all fight or flight is the same and it can actually be good for us. Think about a skier who comes to a steep, icy trail. Her heart rate will rise and she will either feel fear or exhilaration. These contrasting states are called “challenges” and “threats.”
In a challenge state, you’re confident of success and your sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive, causing your peripheral blood vessels to dilate. This allows your heart to work more efficiently, delivering more blood to limbs and the brain. People will perform better than normal in the challenge state – physically and mentally. In a fear state, the body goes into damage control mode and prepares for defeat. Instead of dilating, your blood vessels constrict and your heart beats less efficiently. It even triggers inflammation.
The key is to trigger the challenge state instead of the fear state. Practice controlling your thoughts to keep yourself focused on the present situation and not get caught up in un-realistic problems. With a small shift in your attitude, you can improve how you work under stress, which will improve your long-term health.