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How to make STRESS your FRIEND!

How to make STRESS your FRIEND!



Let’s talk about how to make “STRESS” your friend…



My father was a surgeon and when we used to sit at the dinner table and the phone rang, quite often tension set in, affecting not only my father but also the entire family. My father was, among other things, a trauma Surgeon and the telephone ringing at certain times of the day often meant that a patient was in a critical condition.



Stress is the body’s healthy physiological reaction. Stress causes the body to release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Our heart rate goes up, our sight and other senses improve, blood flows to vital parts of the body and therefore our performance peaks for a certain period of time. This stress reaction is what helped my father to save a lot of patients’ lives.



” This stress reaction is what helped my father to save a lot of patients’ lives. “



Stress is a good thing and we’ve got to learn to love it and make it our friend instead of our enemy. See this beautifully delivered 

TED talk by Kelly McConigal.



However, looking at the statistics, a lot of us suffer from extreme stress. In the business sector, more than half suffer from stress-related physical complaints and 1 in 7 employees experience burnout (TNO). So how can we make stress our friend and prevent us from being defeated by it?




The stress curve is a parabola that moves from functional to dysfunctional. For optimum performance, we should be somewhere in the middle of this curve. We can identify 3 factors that move us towards the dysfunctional side of stress.



  1. Fear of losing control
  2. We have too much stress for a too long period and do not recover from it
  3. We fear stress.


Ad 1. Control freaks


The main reason why people suffer so much from stress is that they get stressed about things that are beyond their control. Stress in these cases is of no use.



In the case of my father, the stress he experienced was functional. A heightened awareness and pumped up body helps if you have to save a patient’s life in the middle of the night. However, a lot of people get stressed about things that they cannot influence.



I don’t want to trivialize the stress that people face. Stress is a real and serious problem and the statistics prove this. It affects our working life and society in general. But there are people in the world who endure extreme stress: soldiers fighting in a battlefield, doctors that must fight for the life of a patient, parents losing a child, people starving from hunger… Those are events to get stressed about! Not getting a promotion, not delivering a solid presentation, not being liked is not something to be excessively stressed about. Be strict with yourself, simply do not tolerate too much b.llsh.t!



” Not getting a promotion, not delivering a solid presentation, not being liked… is not something to be excessively stressed about. “



Ad 2. Recovery


Stress is a physiological state, i.e. a state where the body is producing various hormones and stress causes muscle tension. This is a positive sign, it means that your body is healthy and is reacting as it should to a given situation. However, the body also needs to recover after a time in such an alert state. If not, it will wear you out in the end. After being stressed the body needs to recover and remove the toxins that have built up. People get burned out not because they are stressed or work too hard, but because they do not recover from stress.

Ad 3. Fear fear


Another word for stress is fear. We fear certain situations or outcomes and therefore we get into a state of fight, flight or freeze. The stress gets worse if we fear the fact that we are fearful. Stress in itself is positive and helps us to achieve things better than we normally can. Try to see stress or fear as something that is positive, don’t worry about the fact that your body feels a little tensed and shaky. Feel it and accept the feeling, try not to push it away, it will only get stronger. There is no way around it once it is there, face it and this will make you healthier according to extensive academic research (TED talk by Kelly McConigal). As my own coach always advises me: “grab the bull by the horns and lick it in the face”.



” The stress gets worse if we fear the fact that we are fearful “



What can we do to keep stress on the functional site of the spectrum?


The overall solution to stress is found in our physiology. Stress is a physiological state. So, to become a friend of stress you’ll find it in a physiological solution.



More specifically what is important in dealing with and restoring stress is having a solid balance in daily activities. You could say that performing well and feeling good is a stool that stands on 3 legs (Errez Bar, GZ Psychologist).



  • Structure and regularity,
  • Relaxation and rest,
  • Pleasure and distraction




Here are a couple of TIPS on these three different categories to think about and make stress your friend rather than your enemy:






1. PLAN ahead: First thing in the morning or last thing at night, plan your day ahead (and the week on Sundays). Write down the (max) 3 priorities, decide on planned meetings to cancel, schedule preparation time, etc.



2. ROUTINES: Think about your daily routines. We are a collection of habits we all do, i.e. getting up, going to work, sleep, eat etc. This creates an enormous efficiency in our lives and minimizes the number of deliberate decisions that we need to make. Use this ability to create automatic habits around things like preparation of meetings, dressing, eat, sleep, etc. For example, Angela Merkel and Barack Obama always wear the same type of clothes every day so they don’t have to think about it.






3. BREAKS. Take and schedule BREAKS. We are able to focus intensively for 25 minutes and if it is less intensive we can be present for a max of 90 to 120 minutes (depending on the time of day.) After these slots, we need a relax and recharge our mental battery.



4. PRIORITIZE SLEEP. Sleep is the nr 1 recovery mechanism see more information in one of my previous blogs.



5. MEDITATE. The benefits of meditation are numerous and too many to mention here. Do it a couple of weeks and find out for yourself.






6. LAUGH: Make sure you laugh as much as you can. Even if you do not feel like laughing, force your body and face to do so. You’ll find that your mind will take over the feeling the body induces.



7. CELEBRATE SUCCESS and GIVE COMPLIMENTS Celebrating success is a true ‘low hanging fruit’ for relieving stress and boost performance. Yet in western European business culture, it is not something that seems easy to do. Giving compliments, organizing celebratory events and openly championing high performers boosts the energy of everyone involved, givers, spectators, and receivers.




If you like to learn more, download the STRESS mindmap here.



On to your TopMind!



Cheers AJ