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I can feel my heart thumping in my chest. My palms are sweaty, and my mouth has gone desert dry. Twenty people are waiting for me to speak in front of them for the next half hour. It’s the longest speech I’ve given, and the butterflies in my stomach are flying. The stress didn’t start in the room. It started a couple days earlier. Just thinking about giving the speech stressed me out.
It was a good thing.
Feeling Stressed Can Be Good For You
Stress isn’t comfortable. It can even be a fear response. Before my speech, I was feeling it full on… and it was a good sign. The thing with stress is we only feel it when there’s something we care about. If you don’t care about something, you don’t feel stress toward it.
By feeling stressed toward this talk, it showed I was invested in it. I cared about making a good impression. Cared that the people hearing the speech left with something they could use in their life. If you’re feeling stressed out, find a time to look at what you care about in the situation. You might know the answer immediately, or you might not.
Public speaking is supposedly the #1 fear in the world. It’s not surprising, really. In school, we’re trained to sit in a room of 30 other people and stay quiet. We’re not taught to be comfortable with speaking in front of others. We’re often afraid of being rejected by the people we’re speaking to, or making a fool out of ourselves… we feel exposed and vulnerable.
If we’re stressed out about doing something, we might procrastinate and put it off. Instead, look at what you care about. If your palms are sweaty and your mouth dry, ask yourself what you stand to gain by accepting the stress and moving toward your goal.
But What If I’m Overwhelmed?
Being overwhelmed can happen to the best of us. One of the last jobs I had completely overwhelmed me. It got to the point where I couldn’t pull up to the building I worked in without sucking in short, sharp breaths and my heart beating faster. Eventually, it got to the point where I broke down before going in one day. I couldn’t take the stress anymore.
At the time, if someone told me the stress I was feeling was good for me I would’ve laughed at them. Looking back at it, that stress was trying to help me.
What Stress Is Trying to Tell Us
We only feel overwhelmed when we don’t have the resources to deal with the situation at hand. As soon as we feel that kind of stress, it should be a signal for us that something has to change. For me, overwhelmed at my job, I had to ask myself, “What was my stress trying to tell me?”
At the time I felt completely stuck in my job, but when I looked at it, the answer was clear. I didn’t like the job, and knew I wouldn’t even before I went for the promotion (but it came with more money and benefits!). It didn’t let me use any of my strengths, and I didn’t care for the manager I’d be under as a supervisor.
I set myself up for major stress, and stress is what got me out of it. I needed out, and my stress built and broke me down until I couldn’t take it anymore. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t pretty, but after breaking down I had to look at the situation differently.
I could find a different job. Maybe it wouldn’t pay as well, but I could get another one. The chronic stress wasn’t worth it (Lack of happiness and heaps of illness isn’t worth squat). It was time to change. I put in my notice the next day. I had been afraid to go searching for a new job, but I found one in just a few weeks.
Three Questions To Ask Yourself When You’re Stressed
Whether you’re only a little stressed or completely overwhelmed, asking yourself a few questions can help break you out of feeling stuck.
- What do you care about?
You only feel stressed when you care. What do you care about most in this situation? For me at my job, it wasn’t that I cared about doing a great job or the money, I cared about what I really wanted to be doing (working on my own business and helping people).
- What is your stress trying to tell you?
At my job, my stress was telling me to get the hell out of there. For my speech, it was telling me to prepare and practice so I knew my material. How is your stress trying to help you? It might be to make a change, or it might even be a signal you’re stressing yourself out without meaning to.
- What resources are you missing?
This is important to ask when we’re overwhelmed. When we’re that stressed out, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and miss resources that might be able to help us.
A huge resource are our friends and loved ones. It can be hard to ask for help or advice, but that’s often one of the best ways. If your plate is too full, calling in backup to help with the load can go a long way in getting unstuck. What resources might you be missing? If you don’t know, talk the situation out with a friend to get a second pair of eyes on it.
Stress Is Your Guide
We’ve been taught to look at stress as something that’s bad for us, that’s going to make us sick. Sure, it can do that. But feeling stressed can be good for you and help you. We just have to stop being afraid of stress and running from it. Living a stress free life would mean giving up everything you care about, which wouldn’t be fulfilling.
Instead, take that step and start looking at stress itself as a resource. Through doing that, we can stop giving stress power over our lives and come to accept it, and make it work for us rather than against us.
Author Bio: Mark Reagan is the stress management coach and speaker who helps professionals reduce their stress and make it work for them to perform at their best under pressure. If you’re ready to take control of your stress, sign up for your free 30 day course and go from breaking down to breaking free at MarkReagan.com
[Photo Credit: Dennis Skley]