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Thrive Under Stress – The Simple Mindset Shift That Makes You Unstoppable

by Akash Karia · Updated Jun. 21, 2024

In this article, you’ll discover how to thrive under stress.

When we talk about stress, the usual narrative is overwhelmingly negative. But what if we’ve been approaching it all wrong? What if stress, that familiar rush of adrenaline and heightened alertness, isn’t just an obstacle but a potential ally?

In the article below, I share how changing your stress mindset (your belief about whether or not stress is harmful / helpful) can actually help you thrive under stress:


1. The Power of Perception


Let’s dive into a fascinating study from 1998, where 30,000 adults in the U.S. were asked to report their stress levels over the past year and whether they believed that stress was harmful to their health.

Fast forward to eight years later:

Researchers decided to check public records to see how many of these individuals had passed away.

The findings?

Those who reported high stress levels and also believed that stress was detrimental to their health had a 43% higher risk of dying.

However, here’s an intriguing twist:

This increased risk was only present in those who believed stress was harmful.

Participants who faced high levels of stress but didn’t see it as harmful showed no increase in mortality risk.

This suggests something profound about the power of perception.

It’s not merely the stress itself, but how you view that stress, that can impact your health and survival. This insight challenges us to think about our own beliefs: Are they potentially shaping our health outcomes? Understanding and possibly reshaping our perceptions of stress could help us thrive under stress.

Related: Top public speaking tips and how to apply them

2. Your Mindset Creates A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

When you believe something strongly, it influences how you act. These repeated actions gradually develop into habits, which then dictate the results you see in your life. By understanding this cycle, you can start to see how your initial mindset—whether positive or negative—sets the stage for the outcomes you experience.

In fact, here’s some proof:

A study from Yale University tracked middle-aged adults for over two decades.

What they found was striking — those who had positive beliefs about aging lived, on average, a whopping 7.6 years longer than those with negative views.

Beliefs Become Behaviors, Behaviors Become Outcomes

Let’s break this down:

Why does having a positive outlook on aging extend your life?

It all comes down to behavior.

People who see aging positively tend to adopt healthier lifestyles. They’re more likely to hit the gym, eat well, and maintain social connections — all factors that are known to boost longevity.

On the flip side, if you believe aging is just a downhill slide, you’re less likely to invest in your health. Why bother working out or eating right if you think poor health is inevitable?

This mindset can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What does this have to do with thriving under stress? Everything.

Think about the broader implications here.

If positive perceptions about aging can extend our lifespan, then embracing the potential benefits of stress could enhance our performance, health, and well-being. Those who view stress as a natural and beneficial part of life engage more deeply with tasks, pursue solutions more vigorously, and maintain an overall proactive attitude.


3. Your Mindset Impacts Your Physiology

Look, I want to give you one more example of just how powerful your mindset can be.

Let’s talk about a fascinating study by Dr. Alia Crum which demonstrates just how powerful our perceptions can be: In this study, participants were given two milkshakes on two separate occasions.

Here’s where it gets interesting:

Both shakes had exactly the same nutritional content, but they were presented under two completely different labels.

One week, the shake was described as an indulgent, decadent treat — think high fat, high calorie. The next week, the same shake was pitched as a health-conscious option, low in calories and fat.

Now, you’d think the body would react the same way to the same shake, right? Wrong.

When participants drank the shake labeled as an “indulgence,” their levels of ghrelin, the hormone that makes you feel hungry, plummeted significantly more than when they drank the “healthy” shake. In fact, ghrelin levels dropped three times as much with the indulgent shake compared to the healthy one.

What does this tell us?

The way our brains perceive what we’re consuming can actually affect our body’s biological processes. When the brain believed the body was getting a decadent treat, it signaled, “Okay, we’re full here!” much more aggressively than when it thought we were sipping something sensible.

This is a powerful insight into how our perceptions can shape our physical reality, influencing everything from how satisfied we feel after a meal to how we metabolize food. It serves as a reminder that the mind and body are not just connected; they’re deeply intertwined.

Your Mind and Your Body are Deeply Intertwined

So, how do you use this insight to thrive under stress?

Just as the perception of the milkshake changed the biological response of the participants, so too can our perception of stress alter how our bodies and minds react to it. When we view stress as a harmful force, our body’s response can be more negative, potentially causing anxiety and other detrimental effects.

However, if we reframe stress as an opportunity for growth—analogous to perceiving a high-calorie shake as a delightful indulgence—our body might respond in a more positive and beneficial way.

Related: The power of mindfulness


4. Thrive Under Stress: Embrace the Stress!

In one study, participants were getting ready for a mock job interview –  a simulated environment meant to mimic the stress of a real job interview.

Before the interview, participants are divided into two groups.

Each group watches a different video about stress.

The first group views a video that portrays stress as something that can enhance performance and focus, suggesting that stress can be helpful.

The second group sees a video that describes stress as debilitating, implying that stress could hinder performance and lead to negative outcomes.

Afterwards, based on saliva samples collected before and after the mock interview, researchers measure cortisol and DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) levels of the participants.

Here’s what they find:

Both groups show similar levels of cortisol, a hormone that the body releases in response to stress. This hormone is part of the body’s natural “fight or flight” response to stressful situations. However, the key difference between the groups lies in their levels of DHEA, another hormone that plays a role in how our bodies handle stress.

The group that watches the video describing stress as beneficial not only has higher levels of DHEA, but they also perform better in the mock interview and report feeling more confident.

Rather than seeing stress as something that holds you back, understand that it can actually help you perform better.

Why does this matter?

It matters because DHEA is known to help counteract some negative effects of cortisol and is associated with better resilience to stress.

In short – viewing stress as a positive force can lead to physiological changes that enhance our performance in high-pressure situations such as job interviews or public speaking. It highlights the importance of managing our mindset towards stress to use it to our advantage.


6. You Can’t Always “Reduce Stress”, But You Can Change How You Approach It

Look, it always is a good idea to try and reduce the stressors in your life. Things like meditation and mindfulness certainly help.

There is no denying that chronic stress is bad for you.

There’s plenty of irrefutable research that chronic stress is bad for your mental, physical and emotional health.

However, the truth is that there is a second side to the story that’s often left untold.

Here’s the other side:

Stress can actually serve as a performance enhancer. If you shift your perspective and view stress, especially short-term stress, as beneficial, it can actually lead to performance improvements.

That’s what I mean by thriving under stress. You thrive under stress by choosing to view stress as an important tool for growth and achievement. When you start to see stress as a positive force that can push you to excel, you transform what could be a barrier into a motivator. This proactive approach not only improves your performance but also enhances your overall resilience and capacity to handle future challenges.

For instance, embracing the nerves before a public speaking engagement can actually enhance your presence and delivery on stage. By reinterpreting these stress signals as signs of preparation rather than panic, you can transform them into a powerful ally in achieving peak performance.


Thrive Under Stress – Learning From Athletes

Athletes often speak candidly about their encounters with nerves and stress, acknowledging these sensations as inherent elements of competitive sports. Instead of viewing these feelings solely as negative or debilitating, successful athletes often see nerves as essential to their performance.

Here’s how some athletes harness their pre-game stress to elevate their performance:

  1. Pre-Competition Activation: Athletes often interpret nerves as a sign of readiness and excitement. This physiological arousal is seen as necessary for peak performance. For instance, Serena Williams has spoken about how feeling nervous before matches is a reminder that she’s ready and cares deeply about the outcome.
  2. Reframing Mindset: Many top performers use psychological techniques to reframe nerves as positive, motivating forces rather than threats. Simone Biles, for example, has discussed using visualization and breathing techniques to manage her nerves, focusing on how these feelings can enhance her concentration and elevate her performance.
  3. Acceptance and Acknowledgment: Acknowledging nerves rather than denying them is a common approach. Athletes like LeBron James have talked about accepting that nerves are a part of the game, suggesting that once you accept them, you can start working with them to your advantage.
  4. Energy Conversion: Some athletes, like sprinter Usain Bolt, turn nervous energy into physical energy. They view the adrenaline rush that comes with nerves as an extra boost of power, crucial for explosive performances.

As you can see, there’s a lot here that we can take into the world of business.

But the most important thing is this:


If you want to thrive under stress, tell yourself a more empowering story about stress

The most powerful story is the one you tell yourself.

The stories you tell yourself – your mindset – are the most powerful ones because they become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Related: 7 key storytelling techniques and how to apply them

We can’t always change the stressor (e.g. the crying baby, the deadline, the sudden setbacks that life springs on us).


What we can master is the storyline we attach to these challenges.

We can shift the story we tell ourselves about this stress.

We can tell ourselves, “This setback, this looming deadline, this pressure – it’s giving me the energy that I need to rise up and grow.”

With this new mindset, the stress doesn’t change…

But your approach to it does!

And that might make all the difference.



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