“I’m so stressed out.” How many times have you said that? We tend to view stress as a highly unpleasant, very negative, and medically detrimental feeling. However, feeling stressed can be totally normal and actually a positive in your life.
Stress is a burst of energy that basically advises you on what to do. In small doses, stress has many advantages. For instance, stress can help you meet daily challenges and motivates you to reach your goals. Do you ever notice it’s the times that you say you are “stressed” that you are actually getting the most done? It’s true, stress can help you accomplish tasks more efficiently. It can even boost memory.
Holy (insert expletive here)! Run! It’s a flesh eating zombie! Stress is also a vital warning system, producing the fight-or-flight response. When the brain perceives some kind of stress, it starts flooding the body with chemicals like epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. This creates a variety of reactions such as an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Plus, the senses suddenly have a laser-like focus so you can avoid physically stressful situations — such as escaping a post apocalyptic world or jumping away from a moving car — and be safe.
So, what does it all come down to? BALANCE. Too little stress and you’re unhappy, bored and unmotivated; too much and you become cranky, snappy and maybe even sick. Focusing on the positive aspects of stress can be enough to help us turn stress around and to make the most of it. So let’s do it:
1. Stress can be motivating.
You may remember for instance being at school and reviewing for exams. Some people studied very hard and started very early and others will have waited until the last night and then crammed as quickly as possible to learn it all in a night. Of course the people who studied harder and longer were the ones who usually performed better in the exams but it was this group that was most affected by stress. If you’re feeling the stress of a situation and want to do well, then you go about trying to prepare, plan or fix what is ahead of you, in a good way. This not only goes for school work, job interviews, sporting events and even asking out someone you have a crush on. Stress can produce a heightened sense of awareness and complete absorption into what you are doing.
2. Stress is a cognitive enhancer.
Incredible though it may sound, stress is actually a cognitive enhancer which can boost several aspects of our mental prowess and so help us in professional and academic abilities. A little stress helps our brains to focus and increases memory and recall. And learning to deal with stressful situations, makes future stressful situations easier to manage, making your more psychologically resilient.
3. Stress increases physical performance and endurance.
As well as improving your brain function, stress can also increase your physical performance and endurance. This is because it causes the release of adrenaline which speeds up your heart rate and therefore, your metabolism. This can then result in increased reactions and reflexes, while also acting as a painkiller meaning that you can have better endurance. Back in the caveman days, this once helped us to run for longer when being chased, but today it might help us in a physical confrontation, a performance, or during a sporting event. A bit of stress for an athlete is a great thing. Adrenaline can also help to fight tiredness and fatigue. Personally, I always play better tennis when the stakes are high (and my nerves are too!).
4. Stress = Change and change is good.
In the right circumstances, stress can be perceived as the ‘spice of life’ and can be what creates challenge, suspense and excitement. For instance some of the most important and happiest moments of your life were probably also very stressful – your first day at work, your marriage, your first child (and any subsequent children), going traveling, buying a house… all of them were highly stressful but this was just because they represented exciting positive life changes. A complete lack of stress in your life might suggest that you haven’t had any such major changes in your life and that might suggest likewise that you are not challenged in your life and not moving forward
5. Stress can increase short term immunity.
When the body responds to stress, it prepares itself for the possibility of injury or infection. it provides chemicals that strengthen the immune system and provides a temporary defensive boost. A little stress goes a long way in the fight against illness.
When stress is not such a good thing:
All of the above said, make no mistake about it, chronic stress is not good. “Good” stress should be acute, fleeting and not something that exists over a prolonged period. When stress exists for too long of a period of time, the toll on the body can be great. If you are suffering chronic stress then see a life coach or therapist, or try yourself to address the causes of your stress. Meanwhile for short term stress, you may want to try meditation or other relaxation techniques, positive affirmations or the most underutilized stress reducer we have – exercise. This will help to psych you up and rather than trying to suppress the stress you can instead embrace it and use it to motivate you to success.
There are definitely benefits to a little bit of stress. So next time you are feeling the pressure, try to distinguish between good and bad stress and maybe even change your perception of the stressors in your life. If you perceive something as a challenge, the fear your would normally experience may turn into excitement and anticipation, or at least strong resolve. You can often make the shift in perception by focusing on resources, seeing the hidden potential benefits of a situation, and reminding yourself of your strengths. Get into the habit of thinking like an optimist.