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The Difference a Year Can Make, with Ishita Kopparapu

Each summer, we do an intensive bootcamp ONLY for rising seniors, where we go through the entire Ivy League Challenge course in just 2 weeks.

During day 2, we discussed how precious each hour is for the next few months, and that managing our time and energy will be critical to a successful senior summer.

The students committed to deleting social media apps from their phones until applications are turned in, and we discussed how to choose to engage in our studies and in life by increasing our appreciation for what is around us, and to choose to be curious about things.

Here are a few clips from the class.

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Welcome back to season two of the Ivy League Prep Academy Podcast. Equipping you to successfully pursue the college of your dreams. We believe everyone deserves to reach their full potential, and the admissions process shouldn't hold you back.

If you're like most people, you view stress as harmful. And that doesn't surprise me. It shouldn't surprise anyone.

If you just look up stress or what to Do About Stress any number of different stress related searches on Google, you're going to find endless answers about how debilitating and how bad stress is for you. And because so many people believe that stress is bad for them, well, it leads to a whole bunch of behaviors that are not healthy, behaviors and attitudes and beliefs that are actually creating more harm than good. For example, sometimes people get drunk to, quote unquote, release stress.

Other times, people might procrastinate in order to avoid feeling stressed. Or sometimes people worry and stress out as they imagine worst case scenarios. As I did my research for this podcast, I even found one study that talked about how simply having the goal to avoid stress increase the long term risk of outcomes like depression and divorce, or getting fired, right, just by increasing people's reliance on these harmful coping strategies, right? If you're trying to release stress or reduce stress, then you avoid it, you worry about it, you try to cope with it, you try to mask it, you try to cover it up, whatever it may be.

In contrast, within the next few minutes, I hope that you can change your perspective, that you can view stress more positively, recognize that stress encourages people to cope in ways that help them thrive, that using the energy of stress, you can actually tackle the source of stress. Or that because of stress, you can seek out social support, or you can even find meaning in it. All of these responses are far more healthy.

If you want to read the research for yourself, there are a couple of people I recommend. One is Kelly McGonagle. She's a Stanford psychologist and author of The Upside of Stress.

And the other is Alia Crumb, who did research both at UPenn and at Stanford University. And both of these amazing researchers have written plenty about the upside of stress, about how positive stress actually can be. So, for example, this research shows that viewing stress as a helpful part of life rather than harmful is associated with better health, with better emotional well being, with higher productivity at work.

And this is true even during periods of very high stress. So what are the healthy mindsets around stress? Rather than trying to reduce stress, trying to find ways to cope with stress, et cetera, I want you to shift in one of three ways the three most positive, most protective beliefs about stress. The three mindsets that allow stress to help you the most are one, view your body's stress response as helpful, not debilitating, so, for example, the extra energy that you produce when you experience the adrenaline and the cortisol that heightens your focus, it gives you extra energy.

And you can use that extra energy to perform at a higher level. That's a healthy stress response. Number two, to view yourself as completely capable of handling and even learning and growing from the stress in your life.

So if you believe that you're up to the task, you can do it. This is difficult, but you can handle it. And that you're going to get stronger, you're going to learn, you're going to grow because of the stress.

Again, that's a very healthy mindset to come into stress with. And third is to view stress as something totally normal, something that everyone deals with, right? Stress is not evidence that you are not good enough or that your life or that you are somehow not enough. Stress is something totally normal.

All right? So the reason why stress has such a bad name is there's a lot of good evidence around the fact that chronic and traumatic stress does in fact increase the risk of illness. It leads to depression, even early death and so many other things. That's all true.

And what I'm saying is choosing one of these more healthy responses to stress does not deny the fact that stress can be harmful. Instead, what I'm asking you to do is recognize that there are more responses to stress and that some are healthier than others. So there is a myth that these stress response is quote unquote, fight or flight.

Maybe you've heard this before, but did you know that the body has equally natural responses that are not fight or flight? Equally natural responses to stress? It is, for example, equally natural for someone to experience high levels of stress and get excited and feel like it's time for them to step up and play a better game. They become more focused. That's a perfectly natural and normal response.

Another perfectly natural and normal response to stress, high levels of stress. Low levels of stress is to look out for your people. So some people become far more social.

They look for support. They look for people who need support. And they begin to help and take care of those around them.

That's a natural, a normal and a healthy response to stress. As the cortisol is being released, the stress hormone additionally oxytocin, this bonding hormone, is also being released. And people who experience that response to stress have a very, very healthy response and their body does not become sick or depressed.

People who feel this challenged the champion response. They feel like the stress is just helping them perform at a higher level. They also experience the same levels of cortisol, same levels of stress hormone, but they also experience the rush and the thrill of overcoming a challenge.

And they do not experience increased levels of disease or depression, et cetera. One of the things that I learned from Kelly McGonagal about why people have such a misunderstanding of the effects of stress in our actual lives is the fact that the vast majority of stress research has been done on lab animals and these lab animals were tortured. In her book The Upside of Stress, kelly McGonagal does go into detail about how the mice were stressed out and the type of torture that they endured.

And there's a couple of really important things to notice here. One, these were mice, not humans. And the mice did not have any ability to see some kind of deeper meaning in the stress.

All that happened is this meaningless torture, sometimes once a day, sometimes many times a day, the mice had no way of attaching their stressful outcome to some kind of growth or some kind of meaning. They just were stressed out until they died. And so it's probably true that if humans were tortured in the same way in meaningless senseless torture day after day and they had no way to grow through this and no way to overcome it, and they did in fact lose all hope that yes, humans are going to experience the exact same outcome that the mice experienced.

But in the real world, the vast majority of the time, the stress that you and I experience is not torture, first of all. Second of all, even though we're not experiencing actual electric shock or drowning or other types of torture and really high levels of stress, we're not experiencing that kind of stress. We're usually experiencing deadlines or too much hassle or trying to fit everything in and time management and that level of stress, that's not the kind of stress that these lab rats were tested on.

So first of all, we experience a different kind of stress in real life than what a lot of the research was based on. And second of all, we do have these other mechanisms. We can see meaning in the frustration and in the stress or we can reach out for our people and we can begin taking care of people in times when we feel like it's needless torture or needless stress.

We can look out for people who need help and support and we can provide that. And that releases the oxytocin that releases this bonding experience in the body that's like we talked about, very, very healthy. Or we can experience the adrenaline rush and we can experience the mindset shift that says, wow, I'm going to use this extra energy that I'm receiving because I'm feeling stressed.

I'm going to use that extra energy to go and perform at a higher level. I remember being told when I was a young man and I don't remember who told me and I don't remember the musician, so I'm not going to name any names, but I remember hearing the story of a famous musician who every time just before he went out on stage, he got so nervous that he threw up. In fact, his stage crew knew about this, and he always had to have a trash can behind stage in a place where people couldn't see him throwing up before he went out on stage.

He got nervous every time before he performed. And he said when the day comes that he no longer gets so nervous that he needs to throw up before he goes out on stage, he will know that it's time to retire. Because he'll know that performing on stage is no longer as important to him, it's no longer as meaningful.

So he's not getting nervous and he's not performing at his absolute best. Well, I'm so grateful to whoever said that to me, because that shifted my mindset forever. And I saw that mindset at Harvard all the time.

So many of my peers and so many of my teachers had that exact same mindset. When the going got tough, we got going. We pulled ourselves up and we showed our truest best selves.

We rose to the challenge and we accomplished great things. I saw that attribute among so many peers and so many teachers at Harvard that I know it cannot be a coincidence. I believe that so many people at these higher levels of success and these higher levels of performance are performing that way because in part of their mindset around stress, they don't believe that stress is killing them.

They believe that stress is giving them the energy, giving them the strength, giving them what they need to perform at a higher level. Other people believe that when they experience stress, they know that this is their time to connect with people and get through the challenge together. And I saw that at Harvard as well.

Among the high performers, there were those who were just exceptionally good at connecting people and making sure that they faced the challenge together and they were in it together and they bonded through those experiences. And you can shift your mindset too. I encourage you to do that.

In fact, I'm going to take this one step further. In 2013, a study asked this really broad sample of adults in the United States to just rate themselves with how much they agree with this statement. Taking all things together, I feel my life is meaningful.

So the researchers asked everyone that one question one more time. Taking all things together, I feel my life is meaningful. Then we find what's so exciting.

The researchers then looked at what distinguished the people who strongly agreed with the statement from those who did not. And now that we're at the end of this podcast, I hope that their findings do not surprise you. But they did surprise the researchers back in 2013, because every measure of stress that the researchers asked about predicted a greater sense of meaning in life.

In other words, people who had experienced the highest number of stressful events in the past were most likely to consider their lives meaningful. People who said they were under a lot of stress right now rated their lives as more meaningful. So what is the conclusion? What does this mean? Well, people with very meaningful lives worry more and have more stress than people with less meaningful lives.

So when you feel pressure or you feel stress, rather than seeing that as a sign that something must be wrong with your life, recognize it for what it is. Feeling stressed can be a barometer for how engaged you are in activities and the relationships that are in your life that are personally meaningful. It just shows that you are living your life, that you care about something, that you have values, and that you are fighting for those values because you care about those things.

You get stressed at times when you get stressed, I want you to remember, use that stress to help you out. Okay, one last idea to leave you with. If you think about it, the people who understand the highest levels of performance the best understand how useful stress can be.

If you want to look at the activities that require high level of performance, like emergency responders or elite athletes or even astronauts. Right? How do people train for NASA, the key training techniques for all of these people is to help these people thrive under high levels of stress. And in order to do that, they'll intentionally inflict stress upon these elite athletes or upon first responders, emergency responders, or among NASA astronauts.

If this is done intentionally, in order to help these people perform at a higher level, is it okay that you shift your mindset around stress as well? That when you experience stress, you can say, hey, I didn't even have to pay for a coach for this. I didn't even have to pay NASA millions of dollars to train me to experience this stress so that I can grow from it, so I can be stronger from it. See your stress for what it is.

It's an opportunity to strengthen yourself and come out the other side a better person.