Stress. We talk about it a lot, usually as a negative thing. Too much stress, or the wrong kind, definitely hurts our health and happiness, but stress is also an essential part of who we are as humans.
The phrase, That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, is based on scientific evidence. According to one study at UCLA, “People with a history of some lifetime adversity reported better mental health and well-being outcomes than not only people with a high history of adversity but also than people with no history of adversity.” (Seery et al., 2010, p. 1025)
The key there, of course, is “some.” In the same study, researchers found that people with the highest amount of lifetime stress had the poorest mental and physical health. Everything in moderation also has its foundations in fact. What does this mean for our everyday lives, from work to home? We don’t necessarily have to view a brief period of moderate stress as a negative.
Often, we feed the stress. The very idea that we are experiencing stress makes it worse. When feeling pressured, we obsess over all the things we have to get done that day and egg it on with self-doubt, anticipating a bad day. That anticipation can make you feel worse than the stress itself. If you work it right, though, the stress can actually feed you. A few ideas to help you work through that initial freakout:
- Sit still for a moment and breathe slowly and intentionally, clearing your mind as best you can.
- Feeling scattered? Make a list, and knock out tasks one by one, starting at the top.
- Write in a journal or call a friend. Vent about how stressed you are. Got it out? Good. Now get to work.
- Go for a short run or brisk walk — any kind of exercise to vent nervous energy.
- Keep it in perspective. How bad would it be if you didn’t get ALL of those things done? Not terrible? One less thing to worry about.
Caveat: we’re not talking about chronic stress; you can’t operate under tension all the time without adverse repercussions. But periodically, a stressful week can give you a sense of purpose and at the end, a feeling of accomplishment.
Instead of automatically assuming stress is bad, realize it’s more how we manage it. You can let it take over and freak you out, or you can harness it and allow it to fuel you to excel without letting it take over your life.