How to find joy in stressful situations

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Imagine a pro athlete staring down a ticking shot clock. Imagine the rush of anxiety, nerves and excitement that come with it.  

Anyone whose been in a stressful situation can picture it. It’s our brains fired up and waiting to tell our bodies how to respond to something that makes us uncomfortable. You might have heard of that ‘fight or flight’ response. This rush of adrenalin is something we can grow to like, even love, over time.

“In general, stress is neither good nor bad. Stress is just your body mobilizing resources for you to do something,” Raptors team psychologist, Alex Auerbach says. “Stress becomes problematic when you don't build in time for recovery. If you have recovery with stress, you're likely to get growth. The same thing is true when you're working out or doing something physical.”

Auerbach says it’s good to build in buffer time around something stressful. Think of how we’d take 24 hours off after a hard workout to give our muscles time to rest,  repair, and ultimately grow. Public speaking, confrontation, doing things that scare us all drum up the same response in our bodies. A good way to turn that fear response into something positive is to name the stress that we’re feeling.

"Data actually that shows that naming it, whether it's a stressor or an emotion, helps to externalize that thing a little bit. It then starts to feel more manageable and more in our control,” Auerbach explains.

Naming the thing stressing us out — like getting up in front of a room of our peers or making a call we’ve been avoiding — changes our physiology around it. 

“Our whole mental space around this particular stressor evolves once we've named it. That’s because we've taken it from something abstract and put a label on it,” Auerbach notes. “And now we can talk about it really practically. And ask ourselves questions like ‘what's the best way to solve this?’ Or ‘how should we manage that?’”

Breaking down a source of stress “demystifies” it in our brains. It’s easier to be logical about something that scares us when we know why, and how, it does. It’s helpful to think about stress like this in terms of outcome. What is it that we’re so nervous about? If we name that worst case scenario, we often find it’s not the end of the world. 

Not all stress has to become positive. But we can remind our brains that just because something has us anxious, worried, or scared, doesn’t mean it needs to become a mental weight. Even if we don’t come to embrace it, we can name it and walk away.

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