When we are stressed, our bodies’ natural response is to create stress hormones. This is the feeling you get when you enter a big interview, before you give an important speech, or have to have a difficult conversation with your boss. People in high stakes jobs, like professional athletes and emergency responders, are trained to harness these nerves into productivity and focus. So how do these hormones work and how can you turn them into productive energy in your own life?
The two predominant stress hormones our bodies produce are adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, raises your blood pressure, and gives you an energy boost. It’s what fuels our fight or flight instinct and gives us the ability to act at heightened capacities when we feel threatened. While that big presentation at work probably isn’t causing you any physical danger, your body will still produce adrenaline as a response to the psychological stress it is causing you.
The second hormone is cortisol. This suppresses non-essential bodily functions like digestive and reproductive systems and sends signals to the regions of your brain that control fear and motivation. Together, these two hormones allow you to make quicker decisions, increase productivity, and experience higher energy levels. This is why some stress is good, but too much can be harmful to your health. The key to using stress effectively is finding the sweet spot of increased motivation and focus. Here’s how to train your brain to focus on the positive aspects of stress.
The first technique is meditation. Purposeful breathing during meditation helps keep your heart rate and blood pressure down and allows you to stay grounded through times of stress. Second, is visualization. Athletes use this technique frequently. It involves picturing yourself overcoming whatever obstacle is in your way whether it be a big game or a challenging personal conversation. It also allows you to put the situation in perspective and realize that your stressors are likely not life or death situations. Lastly, positive self-talk goes a long way in harnessing stress. It will give you the confidence boost to effectively use your stress and reassurance that you can face any challenge that comes your way.
We will all experience times of increased stress in our lives. Our bodies and brains have evolved to meet stress with hormonal responses for survival. Using techniques to harness this stress into productivity will help you better react to high-pressure situations and help you manage feelings of discomfort that comes with them. It’s important to be aware of your stress levels. Too much is not beneficial and can have detrimental long term health effects. If your stress is constant or feels like it cannot be easily managed, you may need to look deeper at the root of your anxieties.