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December 02, 2021 5 min read

Stress gets a bad rap. But the truth is, it serves several very important functions in the body. And when you learn to harness the stress hormone and its effects, there are several ways to use it to your advantage. In fact, stress is often considered the fuel for peak performance! And we're going to tell you all about this connection between stress and performance in this post.

Good Stress vs. Bad Stress

Before we get into stress and performance specifically, let's go back to the basics. Remember what we said about stress getting a bad rap? The truth is, stress can be a bad thing...but it's certainly not all bad.

In fact, a certain level of stress is incredibly important! The stress hormone (cortisol) is responsible for helping your brain use glucose and increasing the availability of substances that repair tissues.

Additionally, in stressful situations (when the fight-or-flight) response kicks in, your stress hormone proves incredibly useful. They help curb any non-essential functions during this time (including digestion) so your resources can be better spent on fighting whatever threat you're facing.

But this is where the "bad rap" comes in...

If you remain in this fight-or-flight response for too long, even after the threat has passed, you can start to suffer the effects of excessive stress.

To sum it up, stress (or the stress hormone), when you're facing a threat is good. Chronic stress, on the other hand? Not so good.

Here's how the Mayo Clinic explains it:

“The body's stress response system is usually self-limiting. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities.

But when stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on.

The long-term activation of the stress response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follows can disrupt almost all your body's processes.”

Unfortunately, this long-term or chronic stress comes with a number of negative effects, including physical and mental symptoms that can include:

  • Anxiety (Keep in mind, stress and anxiety are two different things. Learn about their differences in this post)
  • Depression
  • Memory problems
  • Digestive issues
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Gaining weight
  • Difficulty concentrating

But now...back to the positive effects of stress. Most importantly, how stress and performance are connected.

How are Stress and Performance Connected?

Here's where things get interesting! The truth is, feeling thrilled and feeling stressed tend to involve the same hormones. In addition to cortisol, the stress hormone, you can also experience a rise in oxytocin (the cuddle hormone) during these times.

It all comes down to how you interpret the feelings that come up with these hormones.

Essentially, when you're considered the connection between stress and performance, you need to remember that if you want to use stress to fuel your performance, you need to view it as an asset rather than a challenge.

Consider this:

"Studies have compared the physiological responses of terrified first-time skydivers and experienced skydivers (Allison et al. 2012; Hare, Wetherell & Smith 2013). Surprisingly, they don’t differ. Heart rates go up whether people are scared or thrilled. Yet how you interpret your pounding heart and sweaty palms can be the difference between feeling panicked and feeling amped up. It turns out that choosing a positive interpretation of stress is something many elite athletes have learned to do. They don’t see stress as a barrier to performance, and they don’t view anxiety as a signal they are going to choke.

The takeaway: When you feel your heart pounding, palms sweating or mind racing, remember that these are signs of an adrenaline rush that can fuel peak performance. Remind yourself that even the most accomplished athletes, performers and leaders experience anxiety, and the most successful choose to channel their stress into energy and positive motivation."

We know what you're thinking: easier said than done. When you're feeling stressed out, the last thing on your mind might be harnessing that energy, rather than ridding yourself of it. So, let's talk about how to do that next! There are ways to use stress to fuel your performance and we're going to share those next.

What Makes Stress the Fuel for Peak Performance

Have you ever noticed how you're on high alert when you're stressed? You might be hyper-aware of your surroundings, and ready to tackle whatever comes your way.

If you're not in need of this added energy, it's not necessary and might not be good for you. But during times when peak performance is required, there are ways to harness stress to your advantage.

One such way is developing what's known as a growth mindset. This comes down to focusing on improving your resilience, overcoming adversity, and becoming more adaptable, even during challenging times. The problem is, many of us are conditioned due to life experiences and genetic factors, to deal with stress and adversity poorly.

While positive changes won't necessarily happen over night, there are ways to start developing a growth mindset.

In doing so, you can start to reap the rewards of the positive connection between stress and performance.

How to Develop a Growth Mindset

Here are some steps to start you off with developing a growth mindset:

  • Prioritize self-care and relaxation habits, including journaling, yoga, and meditation
  • Focus on gratitude whenever possible, and consider keeping a gratitude journal you write in each day
  • Volunteer and give back
  • Keep track of your goals and celebrate your achievements along the way
  • Adopt self-improvement habits and never stop learning
  • Acknowledge (and perhaps even embrace) your imperfections and failures
  • Reflect on past experiences and learn from them
  • Work on becoming more resilient so you can overcome life's challenges quicker and with more ease

Resilience and the vagus nerve

As for that last point about becoming more resilient? Let's talk more about how the vagus nerve can help.

We have a whole post on the topic here. It includes an explanation of how stimulating and strengthening the vagus nerve helps you become more resilient:

"Why stimulate the vagus nerve, you might ask? This nerve is the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system (the system that regulates a variety of body processes that take place without conscious effort). When it becomes stimulated, mood and stress levels, sleep focus and cognition, and athletic performance can all be improved.

The ability to maintain better mood and stress levels allows you to become better equipped to build and practice emotional resilience."

And as for your next question, "How do I stimulate the vagus nerve?" Here's where the magic of Xen by Neuvana headphones comes in.

Invented by a leading cardiac surgeon and backed by science, Xen uses a revolutionary platform to deliver a mild electrical signal via patented earbuds, targeting a branch of the vagus nerve in the ear. No surgery required!

This non-invasive, accessible VNS method can be used on the go, when and where you want to improve your focus, memory, concentration, performance, mood, and more.

The first-of-its-kind, Xen syncs vagus nerve stimulation with your music and lifestyle as it fuses into your routine, improving balance and relief while commuting, working, watching TV, or hanging with pals. We produced it to be easy to use & convenient, so you can relax without the strain.

Welcome to effortless ease!

Ready to shop Xen by Neuvana and try it for yourself? Click here to order yours today.

Did you enjoy learning about the connection between stress and performance in this post?

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