Transfigure Stress into Energy by Drawing on Research

Apply research and Bezos' advice and your pounding heart will flash opportunity instead of doom.

Transfigure Stress Into Energy

Research and businessmen suggests that viewing stress as a positive experience can enhance performance, productivity, health, and vitality. By adopting a “stress-is-enhancing” mindset and getting excited, individuals can reappraise anxiety as excitement and improve their performance. Activating the sympathetic nervous system through exercise, cold exposure, rapid breathing exercises, and caffeine consumption can also help to transfigure stress into energy. The Yerkes-Dodson law highlights that an optimal level of stress, or eustress, can improve performance, particularly in easier tasks. Lastly, cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, has been shown to have potential in helping manage stress and prevent PTSD and depression.

CEOs on Stress Emotions of Fear, Anger, Frozenness

Former Intel CEO Andy Grove in Only Paranoid Survive:

The quality guru W. Edwards Deming advocated stamping out fear in corportations. I have trouble with the simplemindedness of this dictum. The most important role of managers is to create an environment where people are passionately dedicated to winning in the marketplace. Fear plays a major role in creating and maintaining such passion. Fear of competition, fear of bankruptcy, fear of being wrong and fear of losing can all be powerful motivators.

Jeff Bezos in 1998 shareholder letter:

We plan to invest aggressively to build the foundation for a multi-billion-dollar revenue company serving tens of millions of customers with operational excellence and high efficiency. ... But there is no rest for the weary. I constantly remind our employees to be afraid, to wake up every morning terrified. Not of our competition, but of our customers. ... We remain optimistic, but we also know we must remain vigilant and maintain a sense of urgency.

Stress-Is-Enhancing Mindset

Based on a study “The role of stress mindset in shaping cognitive, emotional, and physiological responses to challenging and threatening stress” the book Upside Of Stress suggests following mindset:

Experiencing stress enhances my performance and productivity.
Experiencing stress improves my health and vitality.
Experiencing stress facilitates my learning and growth.
The effects of stress are positive and should be utilized.


In contrast, people who believe that stress can be helpful are more likely to say that they cope with stress proactively. For example, they are more likely to:

Accept the fact that the stressful event has occurred and is real.
Plan a strategy for dealing with the source of stress.
Seek information, help, or advice.
Take steps to overcome, remove, or change the source of stress.
Try to make the best of the situation by viewing it in a more positive way or by using it as an opportunity to grow.

Get Excited

Citing Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement:

Individuals can reappraise anxiety as excitement using minimal strategies such as self-talk (e.g., saying "I am excited" out loud) or simple messages (e.g., "get excited"), which lead them to feel more excited, adopt an opportunity mindset (as opposed to a threat mindset), and improve their subsequent performance.
Getting excited seems to improve performance
"Get Excited" study seen improvement after participants applied the self-talk.

This seems to be an effective a cognitive reframing method.

Stress and Sympathetic Nervous System

The stress response is closely related to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. When you experience stress, your body responds by activating the sympathetic nervous system, also known as the “fight or flight” response. This response prepares your body to deal with the perceived threat by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, as well as releasing stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.

Stress generally affects all systems of the body including cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, muscular, and reproductive systems. With regards to the cardiovascular system, acute stress causes an increase in heart rate, stronger heart muscle contractions, dilation of the heart, and redirection of blood to large muscles. The respiratory system works with the cardiovascular system to supply cells of the body with oxygen while removing carbon dioxide waste. Acute stress constricts the airway which leads to shortness of breath and rapid breathing. The endocrine system increases its production of steroid hormones, which include cortisol, to activate the stress response of the body

Stress and alertness are the opposite of hypnosis, which has shown as increasing parasympathetic activity. Since many of these body processes are stimulated bi-directionally, parasympathetic activity seems likely to be stimulated backwards by for example digestion, which in turn is probably increasing hypnotic-like states. People in hypnotic-like states are more prone to suggestion, that is uncritically accepting information and mindlessly going with the flow, which could be beneficial for resting in safety and connecting verified information, but here we aim to avoid that by stimulating eu-stress. For example, people with attention deficit (ADHD) experience higher parasympathetic nervous system activity than non-ADHD people.

The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems play a significant role in regulating various physiological processes and influencing behavior, including in the workplace. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, which prepares the body for action, while the parasympathetic system is associated with the “freeze” response, and “rest and digest” response, which promotes relaxation and recovery. It is possible that artists and managers may experience different levels of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activation due to the nature of their work. Artists often engage in creative activities that require focus, patience, and relaxation, which may promote parasympathetic activation. In contrast, managers frequently deal with high-stress situations, decision-making, and problem-solving, which can trigger the sympathetic nervous system’s response.

Activate Your Sympathetic Nervous System

Stimulating the sympathetic nervous system can be achieved through various means, such as physical activities, mental exercises, and lifestyle changes. Here are ways to stimulate your sympathetic nervous system:

  1. Exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity like running, cycling, swimming, and other high intensity exercise stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. Intense workouts can increase the release of adrenaline and other stress hormones, which activate the sympathetic response.

  2. Cold exposure: Taking a cold shower or immersing yourself in cold water can stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. Additionally, cold washing face, neck, or entire head will trigger mammalian diving relex, which also stimulates sympathetic nervous system.

  3. Rapid breathing exercises: Practicing deep, rapid breathing can activate the sympathetic nervous system. One method is the Wim Hof breathing technique, which involves taking 30 deep breaths, followed by holding your breath and exhaling slowly.

  4. Stressful situations: Visualizing a stressful situation with peer competitive pressure, time pressure, physical stress such as public speaking, missing imposed deadline, facing your fear, or saying “I am excited”, can activate your sympathetic nervous system by releasing stress hormones.

  5. Stimulants: Drinking coffee or consuming caffeine can increase heart rate and blood pressure.

  6. Listening to fast-paced music: Although distracting, music with a fast tempo and high-energy beats may help.

  7. Bitter taste: Bitter taste and to a lesser extent sour, and salty tastes tend to activate stress response. Notice that coffee tastes bitter and vitamin C tastes sour, where both are mild stimulants.

It is important to keep in mind that rapid changes in stimulation can be counter productive, and could lead to dopamine system adaptation, so probably one needs to find some consistent balance or counter-cycling approach for optimal output.

Optimal Stress Level

Positive stress is called eustress. Flow state is an representative of eustress shown to be associated with increased hearth rate.

Yerkes–Dodson “law” is an empirical relationship between stress level and performance. Caffeine, impulsivity, and memory scanning (1989) says:

The Yerkes-Dodson law (1908) is traditionally interpreted (e.g., Hebb, 1955) as a summary of a complex empirical relationship between arousal and performance: (a) Performance efficiency is an inverted-U function of arousalthat is, as arousal increases, performance first improves and then deteriorates, and (b) the level of arousal associated with optimal performance is a negative monotonic function of task difficulty-that is, the easier the task, the higher the optimal arousal level. Substantial evidence supports this law (e.g., Anderson, 1988; Broadhurst, 1959; Duffy, 1962; Hebb, 1955; Humphreys & Revelle, 1984), but its causes are not yet clear.

I wonder if changing stress levels are also healthy similarly to a workout or a sauna session. Speaking of exercise, here is a tip to boost your running morale. Regarding “easier the task, the higher the optimal arousal level”, I wonder if this explain why successful people, which often perform the most difficult tasks, are always so calm, or is it related to the stresses they encounter daily being more assertive, which is useful for CEO roles?

from Deep Physiological Arousal Detection in a Driving Simulator Using Wearable Sensors

Cortisol Cures

In recent years, researchers have been exploring the potential of using cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, to help individuals manage stress and even prevent the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Stress can have detrimental effects on both mental and physical health, but not always.`

Hydrocortisone recipients reported fewer PTSD and depression symptoms, and had greater improvements in health-related quality of life during the first 3 months posttrauma than did placebo recipients.

The DHEA-S-cortisol ratios during stress were significantly higher in subjects who reported fewer symptoms of dissociation and exhibited superior military performance. Cortisol is a promising cure for PTSD in 2013 and 2019 studies.

1-Minute Training

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In this YouTube video Kelly wants to make you better at stress.

Created on 19 Jun 2020. Updated on: 14 May 2023.
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