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Skill development

Soft-skills: What if you turn stress into your ally?

eye 534 Published on 04 Apr. 2023
tag ##SkillDevelopment

When you hear the word "stress", what comes to mind? Probably exhaustion, pressure at work, fear, overload, fatigue, conflict, tension, demanding situations, etc. We mostly tend to associate this word with a negative connotation. Of course, negative stress experienced over a long period can have a strong impact on our physical and mental health if we do not have the necessary resources to cope with it.

But stress can also be positive. Positive stress is otherwise called "eustress". Positive stress is beneficial in our daily lives and can even become our ally. This soft skill can be developed if we become aware of it and make regular efforts. Let's take a look at what Positive stress is and how to promote it in your life. 

What is eustress? 

Simply put, stress is a tool that allows our body to adapt to a threatening situation. This situation, often outside our comfort zone, is usually perceived as challenging, emotionally charged, sometimes uncomfortable and confusing. The physical reactions to this situation are well known: the heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, and adrenaline and cortisol levels spike. The human body is well-designed, and the psychological reaction that follows is automatic: we seek to protect ourselves against this threat. This is why stress is often perceived as negative.

But these reactions to stress can have the opposite effect on our psychological activity: they can motivate us, boost our performance and generate satisfaction by driving us to give our best. Whether we call it "eustress" or "good stress", both mean positive stress. 

Applying eustress in professional life

We face many professional challenges every day: performing well at a job interview, making a high-stakes decision, meeting a tight deadline, asking for a raise, starting a new job, managing a project, making a presentation to a committee, etc.

Let's take the last example: the next board meeting is in three weeks; you have to present your project and want it to be selected among other presentations between four candidates. 
As the days go by, your happiness is undermined by this event. You feel the pressure, you anticipate panic at the idea of speaking in front of the group, you have trouble sleeping, and you are in the grip of negative stress, which will undoubtedly worsen as the fateful date approaches.

However, stress from this event can be turned into positive stress by changing your mindset; you can turn this seemingly paralysing situation into a great opportunity to excel and show your skills. 

Remember that if you have been chosen to intervene, it is because you have the potential to succeed. And to do this, you can act on the factors within your control: use this dose of stress as a stimulus to prepare a convincing argument, write a quality document and anticipate possible questions. Whether the verdict is favourable or not, you can be proud of the challenge you have faced!

Three tips for making stress your ally 

Adopt a positive outlook: As the example above shows, changing your attitude towards stress generates constructive energy to move forward. By changing your perception of stress, you put yourself in a mindset that is conducive to achieving great things. For example, instead of being afraid of losing face at the job interview, you will show them what you are capable of and highlight your strengths. If the deadline for your report makes you anxious, capitalise on this adrenaline rush to maintain your concentration, stimulate your cognitive abilities and tap into your creative skills. 

Be in control: While stress can make you feel overwhelmed, there are still things you can do to minimise it. For example, you do not have control over the outcome of the competition, but you can prepare yourself as best as possible to put all the chances on your side. The crucial decision you have to make may be stressful, but you can use your critical thinking skills to reflect on it effectively to make a wise choice. In this way, you can control your attitude and the resources available.

Listen to your needs: Stress is a great help in understanding yourself and your needs. It is important to be aware of its manifestations and to react to its teachings. We can take advantage of each stressful situation by asking ourselves where the stress comes from and what message it sends us. What does this fear mean? What do I need to reduce/tolerate this stress? Such as preparation, advice, playing sports, getting information, having a good bath, revising more, visualising a situation, etc.

Paying attention to your stress will not only be an ally but also a great source of knowledge about yourself and your needs.

Helen Simard

Consultant psychologist (career guidance and psychometrics)

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