We’ve all heard the saying ” I perform better under stress”.  Although this may be true for some of us, it is not the case for everyone.  A recent study from the University of Chicago found that during times of stress (measured by elevated levels of cortisol), people who tend to perform better are the one’s who have a higher level of confidence to begin with.  However, people who are anxious and unsure of themselves tend to perform poorly when faced with situations of increased stress.  It appears that the cortisol associated with stress helps individuals who are confident but it hinders those who are anxious.

This study is very helpful for individuals living with anxiety as well as for the general public.  It also brings home the importance of self-confidence and esteem in future success.  It appears that stress is a benign entity, but rather, it’s your mind’s interpretation of that stress that causes one to succeed or to fail.  Confident people seem to interpret the stress as a driving force.  On the contrary, anxious people interpret this same stress in a negative manner, engage in a series of negative thoughts regarding themselves, end up failing or performing poorly, and  as a result of the poor performance, they increase their negative thoughts and level of anxiety.  It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be addressed.

Psychological treatment can be very helpful for individual with anxiety.  With the use of cognitive behavioral therapy, one can learn to identify the negative thoughts and work toward stopping and replacing them with positive ones.  In addition, therapy can help one identify the source of their anxiety and work through those issues.  In addition, this study brings up thoughts of the importance of positive parenting.  More than ever, the research is showing us that the most important thing that we can give our children is a high level of self-confidence.  It is more important for them to believe that they will be able to solve a problem as opposed to being the first to solve it.  For example, it’s more crucial for the healthy development of a child for his/her parents to teach the child to believe that he/she is good at math as opposed to instilling in the child the need to get the answer correct every time.  We can’t be next to our children at every moment to make sure that they do every problem correctly, but we can instill the self-confidence and positive thought patterns to help them get through those future stressful situations in a successful manner.  It’s not the stress that causes us to fail; it’s how we interpret the stress that makes or breaks us…

Dr. Sheyda Melkonian

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