Stress is Enhancing

I've always been told that stress is bad and I should avoid it. That I'm overworking myself and it's my body telling me to stop. I agree that chronic stress is an issue, but I always believed that the right amounts of stress can be good.

Recently I discovered that the mindset towards stress is important as well from the Huberman lab podcast, specifically the episode on applying growth mindset.

He cites a study: Rethinking stress: The role of mindsets in determining the stress response, where they basically had two groups of participants watch two distinct clips biased towards the nature of stress in 2 ways (stress is good vs stress is bad)

The tl;dr of the study:

Stress is bad -> Stress is debilitating.
Stress is good -> Stress is enhancing .

The did multiple experiments, and one of them was testing on work performance, on soft tasks and hard tasks.

The takeaway is the people who learned that stress is enhancing significantly improved their performance on hard tasks, and the group who learned that stress is bad had no improvements at all.

Keep in mind there were no additional practice, no drills to do, all that happened was they heard a tutorial that stress is enhancing.

Mindset matters.

More specifically, our cognitive appraisal (a fancy word for understanding) about stress matters: increased cortisol levels, elevated heart rate, narrowing of visual focus, and shifting of blood away from the periphery, etc.

All of these are characteristics features of a stress response, we've learned that these are mechanisms put into us to get away from lions.

The reality is that the stress response is there for a lot of reasons. It is inherent to us and other species as a way to mobilize us either away from things or towards them. We need the stress response to engage in adaptive challenges.

So the takeaway is to internalize that the stress response is neither good or bad, it depends on whether or not you believe the sensations you're experiencing are serving to enhance your performance or diminish your performance.

And Just learning that it can enhance your performance, can enhance performance.