Stress is something we all have to deal with, whether looking for a job or at work. We have to deal with deadlines, workload, coworkers and bosses.
But recent research has revealed something interesting about the nature of stress. It turns out that the impact of stress, whether bad or good, may depend to a degree greater than we imagined on how we perceive it, according to motivational psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson. Moreover, by changing the way we think about stress, we can actually make it something helpful rather than harmful.
Stress is the array of physiological changes we experience that result from an encounter with some obstacle, or some type of adversity. Many of our responses to this encounter, Halvorson says, are pretty much involuntary. When we experience stress, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in, giving us the so-called fight or flight response. Our body releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. All of this has the effect of heightening our awareness and alertness, making us ready to respond both physically and mentally to the challenge we face.
If you look at it this way, it actually sounds like something beneficial. But, as we all know by now, too much stress can make us sick. It can compromise our immune system and lead to depression.
But, paradoxically, it can also strengthen our immune system, build mental toughness and build a sense of confidence through overcoming our challenges, Halvorson says.
Now, you might think the good or bad impact of stress depends on how much of it you are experiencing. But, as it turns out, that is not true at all, Halvorson says.
What makes the real difference whether stress is good or bad depends on our attitude. Many people believe that stress is bad, that it does bad things to us and that we should try to minimize it as much as possible. But others see stress as a good thing, as something that leads to learning and development.
A study by Alia Crum, Peter Salovey and Shawn Achor of 400 people at a financial institution showed that people who looked at stress positively actually were healthier, more satisfied with their lives, and better performers at work.
And, what is more, the study showed that even if you look at stress negatively, you can change your attitude about it.
The bottom line from this research is that stress is bad for you only if you believe it is, that if you develop the right attitude toward stress, you can use it to your advantage. You have to look at it as something than can spur you on to even better performance, something that can improve you and your situation.