Is There Such a Thing As Good Stress?

Stress. 

We think about the word and our shoulders tense up, our jaw clenches, our heart rate increases and our breathing goes shallow – or at least most of us do.

Stress has a predominantly negative connotation to it, but should it? Is there such a thing as good stress?

Yes, yes there is and I want to talk about how you can use it to your advantage. 

The definition of eustress is moderate or normal psychological stress interpreted as being beneficial for the experiencer. 

I want to highlight the keyword there – interpreted. We’ll come back to that in a second. 

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So what kinds of experiences do everyday people have that would be considered beneficial? As a coach, I’m often telling my clients that there is no growth, no change without a bit of discomfort. 

Think about it, if you want to decrease your stress, you have to change how you live your life. And we don’t like change. We want to stay status quo, neutral, or at least that’s what our reptilian brains are trying to do. It’s a safety thing. The known is safer than the unknown according to our caveman mentality. 

And yet… without a certain amount of eustress, we wouldn’t get promoted at work, we wouldn’t fall in love, we wouldn’t graduate from school, we wouldn’t learn a new skill, we wouldn’t travel, we wouldn’t have babies, we wouldn’t volunteer, we wouldn’t start businesses. The list goes on. 

I want you to think back to a time you studied really hard for an exam. Maybe you changed your schedule up a bit and added in extra time to practice, extra reading, etc. Maybe you said no to going out with friends so that you could focus on acing that exam. It wouldn’t have felt like the status quo. And you know when you’re learning something new, let’s say a math equation, and at first it feels like the gears in your head are working so dang slowly. And then, with enough practice, it just comes, and you wonder why you found it so hard in the first place. 

For my fellow travel lovers out there, think back to that first travel journey you made in a language you didn’t speak. At first it feels nerve-wracking. How do I ask for a ticket? Do they speak English? What if I get on the wrong train? Will there be food on board? What do I do with my bags when I go to the bathroom? It’s new, it’s a stretch, it’s uncomfortable… and then you get to be like me and travel to some 32 countries and not that those questions don’t come up, but they don’t fill you with dread, because you know from experience that you’ll come through. 

Starting my business has not been without stress. I’ve had to learn so many new things. I am NOT a paperwork person, and let me tell you that running your own business comes with a ton of paperwork. 

But now I know that next year when I file corporate taxes, or when I pay myself properly with CPP, or when I create a new online program, I know that it’ll be fine. 

Let’s go back to the word “interpreted”. 

There is a Harvard study on stress and how we interpret it. In the control scenario, participants were put through socially stressful situations and their heart rates and cardiovascular activity was measured. It’s little surprise that those with no intervention had elevated heart rates and constricted heart valves, which over time can lead to some serious health issues. 

The test group were taught to notice the signs of increased heart rate, shallow breathing, and so on, but to interpret them as signs that your body is stepping up to the challenge, that it is excited to take on the task. 

The results? Those who reinterpreted the stressful scenario as a positive, exciting challenge had less constricted heart valves. They were able to lean into the situation and relax a bit more, making it both more enjoyable for them, and healthier for them in the long run. 

Cool, hey? 

It goes to show the immense power of our minds. 

High Performance Coach Brendan Burchard talks about what it’s like to prepare for speeches to arenas full of people. As a highly sought after speaker, he can present to crowds of 10,000 people – scary for the average person, right? 

Does he get the flutters in his heart and start to sweat a little? Of course! He’s human. What he also does is interpret these signs as exciting, as preparing him for the challenge. 

This mindset helps him to focus on what he’s going to stay, instead of allowing his brain to go reptilian on him and panic about the “what if’s”. 

Your mind is powerful, but it requires training. 

So, next time you’re at work and you have a big presentation, or you’re going into your annual review, notice your racing heart and choose to interpret it as your body preparing your to tackle this challenge. Because it is, if you want it to. 

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