+(65) 9851-5162


Get Free Tips, Tools And Stories

For Living An Empowered Life



How Mindset can turn Stress into Strength (3/3)

Our mindset can turn stress into a strength

How do you respond to stress? The common wisdom is that stress is debilitating — that is, if you are stressed, you are less effective and productive. However, a series of three studies conducted by a team of researchers led by Yale Ph.D. candidate Alia Crum (now a professor at Stanford) and including current Yale President Peter Salovey, raised a provocative question: What if stress is debilitating because most of us believe that stress is debilitating? In other words, the researchers were suggesting that how we respond to stress — by being more or less effective and productive — depends on our mindset. If we believe stress is debilitating, the researchers argued, we respond poorly to stress. If, on the other hand, we believe that stress is enhancing, we respond more positively to stress. A ‘positive’ response would include, for example, using stress as a motivator and energy boost.

The results of the three studies are unequivocal: mindset makes a difference in how we respond to stress.

In one of the study, having proven that a stress-is-enhancing mindset leads to improvements in health and work performance (as reported by the participants), it showed how mindset is linked to better health and performance. In a that study, the researchers focused on how mindset impacted the behavioural response to stress (specifically the desire for feedback) and the physiological response (cortisol level, which governs whether a response is calm or excited). Participants in the study, drawn from an undergraduate personality psychology course, were placed in a stressful situation (being judged on a speech). The study showed that participants with a stress-is-enhancing mindset wanted feedback after the stress — a positive behavioural response.

Physiologically, previous research has shown that the optimal cortisol level in times of stress is moderate — neither too low so that the individual doesn’t sufficiently respond to the stress, nor too high so that the individual overreacts to the stress. This study revealed that, physiologically, a stress-is-enhancing mindset led to the optimal cortisol levels (cortisol levels rose or decreased under stress depending on whether the individuals had naturally low or high cortisol levels).

Mindset makes a difference. Stress can be debilitating, as many assume, but it can also enhance work performance and even lead to physiological changes that enable a more positive response. As a result, managing stress, either for ourselves or for our employees, is no longer just a question of reducing stress. In fact, in the workplace, stress can be helpful. The challenge is to ensure that we or our employees have the right mindset to be able to use stress as a positive influence on our work.