Make Stress Your Friend

Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood, Director of Sport Psychology

Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend. – Bruce Lee

Kelly McGonigal has a TED Talk and book where she talks about changing our relationship to stress.  As athletes, we have all experienced stress and anxiety.  And some of us may be more comfortable with it than others.  Maybe stress is an inevitable part of life, especially when we are doing something that we really care about.  What if we started to change our relationship with stress and instead of fearing or avoiding it, we began to welcome it and embrace what it brings to our life.  What if we started to realize that our response to stress is actually a strength and it provides us with the focus and energy we need to be our very best?

Think of a recent experience where you were stressed.  How could you tell you were stressed?  What did you feel or notice?  You may have seen this as a sign that you were not handling the stress well.  Choose to rethink this as signs that your brain and body are trying to get you ready.  If there is one sign or symptom that you really don’t like, take a few minutes to think about its specific role in getting you ready to be your best.


Let’s turn stress around:

  • When you want to do well.  Don’t try to relax.  Embrace the nerves and tell yourself you’re excited, and ready to compete. 
  • Worry less about trying to make stress symptoms go away, and focus more on what you are going to do with the energy, strength and drive that stress gives you.
  • When you are feeling overwhelmed, look for an opportunity to help someone else.  
  • When you feel stress rising, ask yourself “what are my bigger-than-self goals?” and “How is this an opportunity to serve them?”  
  • Allow yourself to feel any thoughts or emotions that come up when you think of your situation.  Then consider that other athletes likely feel this way to and say a phrase that reminds you of this such as “May we all embrace the challenge”.  
  • Think about a stressful past experience in which you persevered or learned something important.  Take a few minutes to think about what the experience taught you about your strengths and how to cope with stress.  
  • Choose an ongoing stressful situation or a recent stressful experience.  What, if any, benefits have you experienced from this stressful experience?  In what ways is your life better because of it?  Have you changed in any positive ways as a result of trying to cope with this experience?


Change your relationship with stress and start to embrace stress as a necessary part of your peak performance strategy.

TED Talk – Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend

Watch Here