How stress can lead to the goal

Stress is a mechanism that allows us to survive in dangerous situations, mobilize to solve important problems and achieve a variety of goals. Stanford University professor Kelly McGonigal talks about how our brain functions in stress situations, activating short time incredible superpowers.

As Walter Cannon pointed out, the reaction of “fight or flight” is triggered by your sympathetic nervous system. To make you more alert and ready for action, this system makes your whole body mobilize all available energy resources. The liver dumps into the blood fat and sugar, which serve as fuel. Breathing becomes deeper so that the heart could receive more oxygen. The heart rate accelerates so that oxygen, fat and sugar could get to muscles and the brain faster. Stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, help the muscles and brain use this energy more efficiently. As a result, you are ready to overcome any obstacles.

It is this response to stress that provides a person with exceptional physical capabilities in special situations. In the news we can often see news about the incredible power that a person gets in stressful situations — for example, the story of two teenage girls from Lebanon, Oregon, which managed to lift an enormous tractor, which ran over their father.

“I don’t know how I was able to lift it up, it was very heavy, — said one of the girls. But we just took it and raised”. Many people go through great stress from time to time. When something very important is at stake, the body uses all the energy resources to do what is necessary.

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The energy that gives you stress, not only helps the body, but also stimulates the brain. Adrenaline heightens your senses. The pupils dilate to allow more light, hearing becomes aggravated. Thus the brain processes the signals coming from the senses faster. Unnecessary thoughts of less important tasks temporarily lose their relevance. Attention is focused, you absorb and process more information.

A chemical cocktail of endorphins, adrenaline, testosterone and dopamine gives rise. This is one reason why some people like to experience stress — it gives them exhilaration. The combination of the above substances increases your sense of confidence in your own abilities. You can act more purposefully and to strive to get things that are able to give you satisfaction. Some scientists call this side of stress “excitement and trepidation”. Such feelings experience skydivers, parachutists, lovers. If you have pleasant goosebumps from participating in gambling or when trying to do complex work to meet the deadline, then you know what it is.

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When we are talking about true survival, these physiological changes manifest themselves most strongly, and you may have the classic reaction of “fight or flight”. But if your life is not threatened directly, the body and the brain switch to a different state — the reaction of reaching the target. Like the reaction of “fight or flight”, this stress response gives you strength and helps operate in difficult conditions. The heartbeat quickens, adrenaline rises, muscles and brain get more fuel, and the “good mood hormones”. But this reaction differs from the previous one in several important respects. You feel focused, but not scared. The level of stress hormones is also different; DHEA levels increase, which helps to recover from stress and to embrace useful experience. As the result the index of your stress reaction grows — so it means that there is a positive correlation of stress hormones, which determines how useful or harmful stress will be for you.

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People who are completely immersed in what they do, and experience this pleasure, show clear signs of the reaction of reaching the target. Artists, athletes, surgeons, gamers, musicians, completely devoting himself to their favorite occupation, experience the reaction to stress. The best in these areas do not remain cold-blooded under the pressure of difficult circumstances; more accurate to say that they have a stress the reaction of reaching the target. It gives them access to mental and physical resources which, in turn, provide increased confidence, concentration, and quality activities.

Excerpts from the book “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It” by Kelly McGonigal.