I went swimming in Llyn Padarn with my pregnant friend Sarah. Being eight months pregnant it can cause curvature and puts pressure on your spine known as lordosis. Therefore, spending some time supported by water is great, in addition front crawl enabled her to feel like she could stretch out, lengthen her spine and muscles on her front which she had been wanting to do for a while. Why is this relevant to stress? Well minutes after entering the water and putting my head in, my mindset started to hinder me. I began to think of all movies that involve lakes.... And from there the threat response kicked in.... What could I do?
Some people find they thrive under high pressure situations, and others crumble. Sometimes the stress helps you be productive, more efficient and heighten your senses and other times it can leave you feeling anxious, debilitated and unable to function.
Why is that and what can we do?
Your body's physiological response to stress, whether it's your threat response or challenge response, prepares you for action, and your heart starts pounding faster. However, one leads to a healthier, more resilient person and the other a precursor to diseases ONLY when the mindset is negative towards stress and your response.
During a challenge response your body responds like physical exercise. Your heart beats stronger and faster pumping more blood, giving you more energy. It's been associated with superior ageing, cardiovascular health, and brain health.
In contrast, threat response is anticipating harm so reduces blood flow to prevent blood loss in a fight and increases your inflammation and immune cell readiness to prepare for healing. It's been associated with accelerated aging, cardiovascular disease and brain disease.
So by changing my mindset to a challenge response I could gain the positive physiological effects of exercise from not only the exercise but the challenge stress response as well! Bonus!!!
How can I change my mindset so that it doesn't choose the threat response?
Well in any situation your brain starts weighing up your resources and deciding if you have the ability to handle it. So you need to tell yourself that you can do it, let's get competitive, the response I'm feeling is going to help me, it's a positive response to give me more energy, improve performance, learn from this experience and is healthier for me!
Thinking positively about stress, changes your mindset and engages the positive response to a challenge not a threat. This can be used for athletic competition, exercise, a public speech or an exam.
Use your stress so that you gain!
For more detailed descriptions and scientific evidence read The Upside of Stress.
.... What did I do in the lake? I made it a competition to reach certain points as quickly as possible with lots of positive self talk about my ability. It helped and was a step in the right direction!