Your Stress Response: Unlocking Your “Challenge Response”
In my last post, I shared a little bit about new research that has shown there isn’t just 1 stress response like we all have believed for years but instead there are 3 different stress responses, including “challenge response” and “tend-and-befriend response.” If you haven’t read that post first, I suggest you take a quick read of it before continuing.
In this post, I want to dive deeper into the “challenge response” to stress and how you can begin to tap into it.
This particular stress response is ideal for situations that require us to perform under pressure, like an athletic event, public speaking, an exam, or some type of performance.
The challenge response gives us energy, focus, and other resources to succeed, it elicits peak performance, and it helps motivate us into action.
Yet if you’ve been in one of these situations like where you have had to speak in public or you are getting ready for a big athletic event, you might notice that in the past you have felt the typical “fight-or-flight response” kick in…
So how do you make sure you can access this response when you need it?
One way to tap into this mode is to consciously make an assessment of your skills and resources to face the task ahead.
You can ask yourself how hard the task will be, do you have the skills, strength and courage to do what’s required, and if there is someone who can help you face the challenge.
When you do this, if you can realize you have the skills and resources needed and remember similar situations that you have faced with success, you will typically be able to find your entry into “challenge response.”
Another helpful thing to remind yourself of is that your stress response is actually an asset, not something harmful. Tell yourself that your anxiety and racing heart are actually bringing more oxygen to your brain, that it is giving you more energy for your task, and more strength and focus to do what you need.
The research of Dr. Kelly McGonigal actually showed that when participants in a study were told this message that stress was supporting their brains and their abilities, no negative health impacts of stress actually showed in their bodies.
This new understanding of stress is another beautiful example of how our beliefs and our mindset have a powerful impact on our health.
If we believe the old paradigm that stress is dangerous or can kill us, it pushes our bodies to respond with the classic “fight-or-flight response.” If instead, we see stress as something that is supporting us in taking on a challenge, our bodies will respond differently and not be negatively impacted.
To learn more about this other stress response, I highly recommend reading Dr. McGonigal’s book “The Upside of Stress.”