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Turn your stress into success

Liz Parry looks at some ways to change your relationship with stress and turn it into a positive force

From pressing work deadlines to family pressures, stress is an inescapable part of our lives today. And with mobile phones, WiFi and social media making us contactable 24 hours a day, it’s very difficult to switch off. Stress is very much seen as a modern-day epidemic, but can it be possible to change this into a positive force and turn our stress into success?

“Stress is best defined as an emotional and physical state resulting in a physiological reaction where the body is prepared to fight or fly,” explains Dr Audrey Tang, a chartered psychologist, mental health and wellness expert and author of new book The Leader’s Guide to Resilience, (Pearson, £14.99). “However, while the word often has negative connotations as we focus on the release of adrenaline, palpitations, and increased sweating, which is often unpleasant and lasts until the perceived threat has passed, or until the body is no longer able to sustain this state and falls into exhaustion, stress can be the very thing that hones our performance. The best athletes give the performance of their lives under stress; people can achieve feats beyond their own expectations because that surge of energy enables them to defy their circumstances.”

This is a concept that Tara Barton, founder and MD of wellness company Birch and Wilde ( understands well. She says: “Whilst stress definitely needs keeping an eye on, in a daily sense, not all stress is bad. For example, I had to learn that in some situations, I deliver much better under a little bit of pressure. The pressure initially felt stressful, but once I knew it was helping me, that ebbed away. Accepting that was a key to unlocking the potential of it and realising that that kind of stress was helping me.”

Three types of stress

Arika Trimnell, a spiritual and mindfulness expert ( explains that there are different types of stress: eustress, stress and distress. She says: “Much of our understanding and perception of stress is that it’s bad, as opposed to its original meaning as ‘the non-specific responses of the body to any demand for change’. Eustress is defined as positive stress that is associated with symptoms like enhanced cognition, better survival, health and increased longevity. Distress is considered to be an aversive, negative state in which coping and adaptation processes fail to return the body to physiological and psychological homeostasis. Most of us are concerned – and rightfully so – about distress rather than stress. Distress leads to not only headaches and heartbreak but also chronic diseases and mental health problems.”

Make stress work for you

Dr Audrey Tang recommends finding ways to make your stress reaction work for you and then using it to respond to greatest effect. “Listen to your body and recognise the signs when something needs to be done,” she says. “Awareness of negative triggers can help us avoid them – or deal with them before they begin to get worrisome; and if the situation or circumstances are positive this may enable us to capitalise on the moment.”

She adds: “While stress needs to be recognised as a valid reason to stop (in the same way as a physical affliction would be), it is as important to realise that if we are ‘unfit to perform’ – we are still unfit – so taking time for a consistent commitment to our emotional and mental fortitude builds resilience to negative stress, and keeps us healthy for positive opportunities. Eating sensibly, sleeping well and taking breaks supports us physically in the same way as recognising when something makes you feel truly well, and seeking to do it more helps us mentally and emotionally.

Use stress as steppingstone to success

“Mindfulness has been used in a variety of clinical settings to alleviate distress in a variety of individuals,” says Arika Trimnell. “One way to employ these highly effective tactics in your life is to turn your stress into your steppingstone to success. Think of how many times you avoid your stressors. One of the best ways to do this is to use your stressor as your focus in mindfulness practices. For example, if you are stressed about your finances, then meditate on money. Another thing you can do is create financial affirmations that you recite, write or listen to regularly. Using your stressor as a focal point can help you change your negative associations with the ‘stressor’, making it ineffective and no longer limiting your success.”

Reframe your goals

Tara Barton recommends following the principle of ‘marginal gains’, which was used to great success by the British cycling team. She explains: “The premise is, instead of changing one thing that you think is the most important and will make all the difference (and puts a lot of stress and pressure on that one thing), change 50 things just 2 per cent, or 100 things just 1 per cent. This reframe of goals reduces pressures, makes all those things super achievable and can have a massive overall impact on long-term success, with much less stress. It’s just a few small daily tweaks to make a long-term goal come to fruition.

For example, you could spend five minutes at the end of each day making a to-do list for the following morning, and come in that next morning much more energised because priorities are sorted already. Or, you could go to bed just 15 to 30 minutes earlier every night: that’s nearly 1.75 to 3.5 hours’ extra sleep per week, and a lot more energy, which is the centre of our drive to success.”

Try some natural remedies

Sometimes our stresses can feel a little overwhelming, but fortunately there are many natural remedies that can help. Shona Wilkinson, a nutritionist with supplement brand Unbeelievable Health ( , suggests lemon balm, which contributes to relaxation and wellbeing and is shown to decrease irritability; rhodiola, an adaptogen shown to help resistance to stress, and L-theanine, the amino acid known as the ‘happy hormone’ which supports serotonin production. Shona also advises eating foods rich in magnesium like bananas, avocados and dark chocolate, as it is the most important mineral for relaxing and helping calm the nervous system. She also recommends wholegrains to help regulate levels of serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter that helps us remain calm.

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