How to Do Well in Stressful Situations — According to Science
Imagine you’re minutes away from the most stressful moment of your life. You’ve let your friends and family know about it, expecting some encouragement and sure enough, each one has a nugget of advice.
Some say the stress is good, it fuels you. Others say you’ve got to chill out or you’re gonna do badly. Before you know it all the different voices are in your head; now your brain is all jumbled up thoughts and you don’t even know what to think anymore.
Well, what are you going to think?
Because what you think at that moment does make a difference. It gets you in a certain mindset and mindset is a powerful thing. It is shaped by your beliefs and affects your “expectations, attributions, and goals”.
Research has shown that mindsets can affect real-life consequences like academic success as well as health and well being. So it can affect your performance in this stressful situation.
How you think about stress matters
There are two ways to think about stress:
- Stress-is-enhancing mindset: You believe that “stress enhances health, performance and well-being”. Basically, you think stress is good.
- Stress-is-debilitating mindset: Just the opposite of the above. You think stress weakens you.
Which mindset is beneficial?
Recently, researchers from Stanford University and Naval Health Research Center aimed to find out how different mindsets affect our performance in stressful situations. They studied Navy SEAL candidates during their Special Warfare Training. Given the high stakes missions and operations Navy SEALs have to undergo, you can imagine how stressful their training is.
At the end of it, not all candidates are chosen or some even drop out halfway as they can’t handle the pressure.
The researchers studied how different stress mindsets of the candidates affected their performance.
What they found was that the candidates with stress-is-enhancing mindsets persisted longer in training, had a higher chance of completing the training and most notably, performed faster at the Obstacle Course by a whopping 27 seconds, as compared to those who did not believe stress was enhancing. They were also rated more positively by their instructors and other candidates.
So, if you’re ever in a stressful situation or a difficult moment in your life, instead of trying to reduce your stress, change your perception about what stress can do. Believing that the stress will and can improve your well-being may help you do much better in the long run.
Furthermore, having a positive stress mindset releases the fear of change and taking risks that may help you fulfil your potential in life.
It’s not easy to change your mindset, but once you successfully do, it makes a world of difference.