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T H E SW E E T S P O T O F STRESS months earlier. Before that, she had been healthy and happy for her entire life. So what had happened? I kept checking again and again that there wasn't something more to it, but no. Here was the cause of Lucy's anxiety: she had, for the first time in her life, failed an exam. This 'failure' had floored her, psychologically speaking. Her reaction to such a relatively minor setback couldn't have been further from 'what doesn't kill me, makes me stronger' - it was more like 'what hurts me slightly has caused me psychological near-collapse'. COPING STRATEGY Peter was also a student. Like Lucy, he had been missing him respond to stress in the way he did? And why did Lucy succumb to it the way she did? After more than three decades of research, I think I now understand why. One reason was Lucy had never experienced any adversity in her life until this point - she had been top of the class, good-looking, popular, stomach that many of us feel. But these symptoms are also present in a quite different emotion - excitement. Research shows that we can harness this energy by a sort of mental ju-jitsu and saying to ourselves 'I feel excited' rather than 'I feel anxious'. Stress is universal; in fact, if you don't experience A paper published stress from time to time, in 1984 proved that you probably aren't the adult brain is fulfilling your potential by not 'hard wired', stretching yourself. However, but changed by the unpleasant symptoms of experience anxiety - with connotations of threat and fear - can be transformed into positive energy by shifting to a mindset of challenge and anticipation. Lucy was frightened of her symptoms but she could have used them to energise STRESS IS UNIVERSAL; IF YOU DON'T EXPERIENCE IT, YOU PROBABLY AREN'T FULFILLING YOUR POTENTIAL lectures - but for a quite different reason. Peter's mother had died of cancer roughly six months before we met - a similar period of time since Lucy's failed exam. His father, who had lost his job because of the time he took off to care for his wife, had not coped well with her death and was drinking heavily. Financially, things were very tough and Peter had needed to step in to protect his 14-year-old sister as much as possible from the family's misfortunes. The tutor had been concerned that Peter might himself be suffering psychologically and that this was why he was not attending some of his lectures. But it turned out that there was a much more prosaic reason for his absence. Peter had taken on a part-time job to help the family. And there was nothing wrong with Peter mentally speaking, either. On the contrary, the misfortune 'has turned me around', he told me. Before his mother became sick, Peter had been a heavy-drinking, good -time freshman who just scraped through his exams and assignments. He didn't have any real interest in his studies and gave little thought to the future. Now this had all changed: he was focused and studying hard. He wanted to read medicine. Peter did admit to feeling stressed at times, but there was a glint in his eye as he described how he coped with the big demands being made on him. His mother's illness, and all the bad consequences for his family, had certainly strengthened him. So what was it about Peter that made good at sports. Peter, on the other hand, had been an average student, he wasn't particularly popular at school and had experienced some bullying, which he had coped with reasonably well. It turns out that people similar to Lucy end up more emotionally vulnerable as adults than those who, like Peter, have had tough times in their lives. Too much adversity is as bad as little, or no, adversity, but a moderate amount toughens the psychological immune system and makes you emotionally resilient and better able to cope with - and benefit from - stress. Lucy had never really known anxiety - the pumping heart, dry mouth, twisting herself into passing her resit exam - which she eventually did - if she had just learned to magically turn them into excitement by saying three words: 'I feel excited'. Peter did exactly that - he used the pressure he was under as an energiser. Life can never be an endless round of success and happiness - sooner or later, there will always be some crisis. With the right challenge mindset, we can learn from the lobster and prove Nietzsche right - what doesn't kill you can make you stronger. The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger And Sharper by Ian Robertson (£16.99, Bloomsbury). Available now. B FIND YOUR BAL AN CE T RAN SFOR M ANX I ET Y I N TO P O S I TI V I T Y Seeing bad times as a challenge, rather than as a threat, resets a number of neurochemical switches in our brain that make us more able to solve problems. Try these tips: Lightly Adopt a Action and power pose clench your goals Stand or sit Action can right hand trick the brain like a boss: Try for 45 head up, into creating seconds on, shoulders the thoughts 15 seconds straight, and emotions off, repeat for occupying that go with a couple of space. This it. Setting a minutes. boosts goal at the This lifts edge of your confidencemood and building comfort zone boosts hormones, will give your confidence brain a surge and can help by changing switch your of moodthe balance brain into lifting reward in the front a courageous when you part of mode. achieve it. your brain. September 2016 BALANCE Control attention A wandering mind tends to be an unhappy mind. If you learn to control your attention and focus, it can improve your mood and reduce stress. Mindfulness is excellent for improving attention. Breathe Change your brain chemistry with your breathing. Take a long slow breath in for a count of five, then slowly out for a count of six. This has a pleasant, tranquillising effect and helps you feel calmer. 33

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