As the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California, I experienced more stress in those four years than at any other time in my life. The constant demand from the media for information that was timely, on-message, and accurate was relentless.
Interestingly enough, it was also the period in my life when I felt the most energized and invigorated. After twenty years as an investigator, I needed the boost of adrenaline that a fast-paced environment gave me.
As entrepreneurs, sales executives, and leaders, you are stressed by deadlines, responsibilities, and your ever-increasing workload. You may be worried that stress is interfering with your job performance and even your health.
The conventional wisdom about stress warns that too much of it can cause high blood pressure, heart attacks, and other health hazards. Although non-stop stress can be harmful, recent research is providing new insight into how measured doses of stress can actually enhance our performance.
Our brains are hard-wired so that it is difficult for us to take action until we feel stress or anxiety. Mentally strong people are able to manage their emotions, thoughts, and behavior in optimal levels to achieve top performance.
Here are 4 mental toughness tools to help you keep stress levels in check:
1. DEVELOP THE RIGHT MINDSET
In the past, psychologists believed that it was the amount of stress that was bad for a person’s health. But in recent studies it’s become clear that the amount of stress is a surprisingly poor predictor of whether it will leave you better, or worse, off.
- those who believe that stress-is-debilitating, and
- those who believe that stress-is-enhancing.
The Yale Study found that people who had stress-is-enhancing mindsets reported having better health, greater life satisfaction, and superior work performance.
Stress produces cortisol—too much or too little cortisol release in response to a stressor can have negative physiological consequences.
The Yale research, in combination with Achor’s findings, paint a very clear picture:
Stress is killing you if you believe it is. Studies confirm that people who die from stress do not die from stress itself, but from the belief that stress was bad for them. Those who do not believe it is harmful experience no negative side effects on their health.
If you can use mental toughness to manage your mindset, you will see challenges you face as opportunities to grow and learn. In addition, you will be both happier and more productive.
2. USE SELF-TALK TO MANAGE YOUR STRESS
We all know that anxiety can hurt performance and most of us have been in situations when we were anxious, couldn’t think straight, and experienced temporary lapses in memory.
Too much cortisol and our performance withers, but people who are calm experience too little cortisol and their performance also withers.
The key is learning how to manage your emotions with self-talk and using the right words when controlling your thoughts.
In a study published by the Journal of Experimental Psychology, people who told themselves that they were excited about the challenge ahead of them performed significantly better than those who told themselves that they were calm.
If you are excited about your job or task, you will be more persuasive, competent, confident, and persistent. You will grit-up with the mental toughness to change the way you label your feelings and emotions—from stressful to exciting. This helps create a shift toward a more positive mindset.
3. BE GRATEFUL
Taking the time to be grateful lessens anxiety because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Professor Robert Emmons conducted a study at the University of California, Davis, of over 1,000 people, from ages 8 to 80. They found that those who cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced a host of benefits:
- Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure
- Higher levels of positive emotions
- More joy, optimism, and happiness
- Acting with more generosity and compassion
- Feeling less lonely and isolated
4. REIGNITE THE INNER FIRE
The higher levels of stress that I experienced as the FBI spokesperson brought me closer to understanding what fired up my heart. Because of the constant deadlines, I found myself doing two things:
1) Focusing on what I liked to do, and 2) delaying until later or delegating to others the things I didn’t like to do.
One of the things I loved to do was gather stories from other agents and then work with reporters on getting those stories out to the public. I delayed as long as possible doing the record checks and going through files for details of an investigation.
When I created stories around FBI best practices and shared them with others, I knew that the audience would benefit from the life lessons that twirled all around me.
The stress imposed upon me by my job forced me to prioritize, and in those priorities I found where my heart was leading: I wanted to write and share the lessons I learned from my time as an FBI agent with others.
For stress to be beneficial, it’s important to find meaning in your work . Research has shown that workers in high-stress jobs like air-traffic controllers and intensive-care nurses thrive under heavy stress if they are positive about the future and find their work meaningful.
You cannot be stressed out and empowered at the same time! Be mentally strong and keep your anxiety from taking over.
When has stress enabled you to perform at your best?
© 2016 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.
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