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Could stress be your superpower?

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New research suggests that it depends on your mindset. There is a lot more to stress than you have been taught. Learning about how to reframe your mindset around stress could help you perform better in your studies and improve your health.

Stress is a normal part of life, and anxiety is a normal response to stress.  Everyone experiences stressors. To deal with this, we may have been taught that it is important to calm ourselves down when we feel stressed but new research suggests there is a way of working with our stress responses that will enhance our performance. In addition, viewing stress negatively actually makes stress have an adverse impact on the body, and reframing it makes it act positively.

Get excited about stress!

A study at Harvard Business School found that when participants reframed their stress as excitement their performance improved and others found them more persuasive and confident.[1] Further studies at Harvard, showed that moving away from calming to hyping, led to improved performance in math, signing, and public speaking. Reframing stress did not eliminate the stress but rather redirected its energy in a positive way.[2]

Could stress be positive?

According to research from Stanford University, reframing your mindset around stress improves how your body performs under the stress. That what we believe about stress equals our actual response. If we believe it to be harmful, we have a harmful response. If we believe it to be helpful, we release neurochemicals that not only help us perform they also dampen some of the negative aspects of the response.[3]

It turns out there are two main responses to stressors, one of threat and one of challenge. Learning to reframe stress as often as we can from a threat to a challenge-response will increase our resilience and wellbeing. Conversely, constantly interpreting stress as a threat however leads to chronic stress which can make us unwell.

Interestingly, there is also a third response to stressors you may not have heard of, the social response. Turns out oxytocin motivates us to seek out social support when we are stressed or to provide support to those we care about. We recover quicker when we socially deal with stress too.

When stress becomes kryptonite

Stress becomes dangerous when we start to have a stress response but there is no stressor or our response is over the top considering the stressor, this is called chronic stress. We must learn how to manage stress and anxiety so that we don’t end up with chronic stress or we can start to heal from this negative cycle. It is the same with chronic anxiety. This is when those calming techniques that you might have previously been using for all stress really should come into play as they do help mitigate chronic stress.

Need support adjusting to uni? With topics covering procrastination, anxiety, sleep, adjustment to culture shock, exams and more, the Lunchtime Life Skills webinar series can help.

You may also need professional support to get out of a negative stress cycle. You can always visit Curtin’s Counselling & Wellbeing webpage to learn more about Curtin’s free counselling services, other group programs, and bulk-billed GP services for all students.



The information in this article is just a glance at the information about reframing stress as learned from Curtin’s Counselling Psychologist Penny Chai.

[1] Brooks, A. W. (2013) Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143 (3), pp. 1144-58. •

[2] Brooks, A. W. (2013) Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143 (3), pp. 1144-58. •

[3] Stanford Mind & Body Lab – Rethink Stress Intervention

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