How to Use Stress to Your Advantage

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Bill Russell may be the most successful athlete in NBA history, but in all 13 of his seasons he got so nervous before games that he usually threw up. Everyone, no matter how well prepared, feels butterflies in stressful situations. Your heart rate increases, your breathing speeds up, and you start worrying about the likelihood of failure rather than focusing on the possibility of success. Your brain instantly tells your body to shut down amid the onslaught of adrenaline and cortisol. But have you ever considered doing the opposite? Like Russell, you can learn to exploit those chemicals rather than suppress them.

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Use Stress to: Build a Better Body

You slide an extra plate onto the bar and think, “Oh, man.” Then, you either fail to lift the extra weight or simply don’t attempt it. Why? You didn’t pump up your ego before you tried pumping iron. “[Nervous energy] means that your body is mobilizing resources. It’s getting oxygen out to where it needs to get to,” says Jeremy Jamieson, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “If we think we can address the stressors that we’re faced with, our bodies are going to do things to get us to approach that stressor. If we don’t think we can address the stressor, our bodies are going to try and remove us from that situation.” The next time your training requires you to increase weight, distance, or any other variable, trust in your abilities and channel that extra nervous energy forward.

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Use Stress to: Get Your Way

Want a raise but don’t like negotiating? It may be time