Turn Stress Into Your Best Ally

Professional athletes learn to turn stress to their advantage. The High-Performance Psychologist for the Seattle Seahawks shares how you can too.

We’ve often been told stress is the enemy.

Stress has been linked to illnesses including cardiovascular disease and even cancer. While stress has been made into public health enemy number one, Dr. Michael Gervais, high-performance psychologist for the Seattle Seahawks, says stress can be beneficial when channelled in positive ways. While stress can work to the advantage of high-performance athletes, it can also do wonders us regular people.

Find your optimal performance zone.

Gervais says there is a correlation between stress and performance. In his work with athletes, he strives to find the optimal zone where high-performance and moderate levels of stress intersect, allowing for growth and adaptation. “Physiologically, [stress] primes our body to be in an optimal state where we’re fast and powerful and quick and responsive. Cognitive processing is optimal and vision is more acute,” says Gervais. Too much stress, though, causes the body over-tighten and hinders growth.

Recovery is important.

“What we’ve learned from those that excel is that they spend equal amounts of time working on recovery,” says Gervais. While too much recovery can cause you to become static, not enough recovery causes burnout. Using stress to its advantage means building in appropriate amounts of recovery whether in the boardroom or on the sports field.

Breathing is one of the first mechanisms that allow us to find a calm state and increases focus and attention. The Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll introduced meditation techniques to his players to help them stay calm and focused.

Change how you interpret stressful events.

How we think about and interpret stressful events will impact the potential benefits that can be reaped from stress. Stress simply put, is change. When we have events of change, we have the opportunity to categorize it as positive or negative. Losing a client, for example, can cause you to react by saying "this is the end of my business as I know it" or "I’m going to devote my energy that I would have spent on that client on landing another client that I’ve wanted to work with for a long time and haven’t had the opportunity." Athletes are taught to use these same techniques to interpret stressful events when they fumble a ball or lose a game.

Practice healthy lifestyle habits.

Getting proper nutrition and sufficient sleep is important to promoting recovery. “Sleeping is where some of the most important recovery and regeneration takes place,” says Gervais. Fueling your mind and body with proper nutrition and hydration allows you to stretch your mental muscle. “Hydration has been said to impact brain volume, which impacts thought processing, learning, and memory,” says Gervais.

Measure your zeal.

“Mood is a great indicator of overtraining and improper recovery,” says Gervais. The best way to tell if you’ve gone too far over your stress threshold is to measure your zest for life and business. Feeling easily agitated, irritable, or short-tempered is an indicator that you may have overdone it on your stress levels or you haven’t built in enough recovery.

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