Stress. We talk about it a lot, usually as a negative thing. This business meeting or that family gathering was stressful. I have so much going on, I’m stressed, and I can’t sleep. Too much stress, or the wrong kind, definitely has a negative impact on our health and happiness, but it’s also an important part of who we are as humans.
The phrase, That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, is actually 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 heath. Everything in moderation, also has its foundations in fact. What does this mean for our everyday lives? We don’t necessarily have to view a brief period of moderate stress as a negative.
This morning, I woke up not having slept well. This is my deadline week (which might have you wondering why I’m spending time writing a blog post), I have birthday parties to plan and just a LOT of things to get done in the next several days. As I helped the kids get ready for school, I could literally feel my shoulders tensing up into my ears.
I know how this goes; I’ve been here before. I get anxious that I won’t get everything done, that I’ll forget something. Then I get annoyed at just about everyone who talks to me. I don’t like myself like that. So, I sat down to write in my journal. What I worked out, after rambling on for several pages is this: I was feeding the stress.
I was feeling the pressure of all the things I needed to do, and I was egging it on with self-doubt and self-judgment for bad behavior towards my family that hadn’t even occurred (yet.) This is what made me feel awful, not the stress itself.
As soon as I realized what I was doing and removed all that other stuff, I found the stress actually fed me! That feeling of having a lot to do got me motivated, energized. So much so, I decided I to post here before getting down to the nitty gritty. And, reminding myself that magazine deadlines are not life-or-death helped me get to a more calm and focused place as well. This must be what people who say they thrive on stress are talking about.
If you don’t feed the stress with all of your other baggage, stress can actually fuel you. Caveat: we’re not talking about chronic stress; you can’t operate this way all the time without negative repercussions. (This is where the whole “learn to say ‘no'” thing enters in.) 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.
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