Stress Can Be a Very Useful Thing

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The things that stress you out will probably never completely go away. A to-do list that’s finished today will just fill right back up again tomorrow, after all. So the smarter way to deal with that under-pressure feeling might simply be to reframe the way you think about it, suggested University of Chicago psychologist and author Sian Beilock in a Reddit AMA today

Beilock, author of a new book called How the Body Knows Its Mind: The Surprising Power of The Physical Environment to Influence How You Think and Feel (Science of Us ran an excerpt), answered a wide range of questions about the emerging research on the brain-body connection. One person, who said he or she was a student at the University of Chicago, asked Beilock if there were a way he could learn to make good use of stress, since it likely wasn’t going to disappear on its own anytime soon. Beilock answered in the affirmative: 

It turns out that how you view stress can impact how you feel and perform. For instance, when students interpret their bodily reactions to a high-stakes situation (e.g., beating heart or sweaty palms) as a sign they are about to fail, they often do. But, when they think about these same bodily signals as a sign they have brought their A game to the table, that their bodily response is actually helping them think at their best, they tend to perform better. 

In other words, though we tend to think that stress impairs our performance, that’s not necessarily the case. The way our bodies react to a stressful situation at least partially depends on the way we interpret those physiological responses (though it may be another story for people with severe anxiety issues, of course).

Bottom line, our thinking matters,” Beilock said in her Reddit chat. We couldn’t agree more.