Good vs. Bad Stress
Stress often gets a bad rap, but it is important to remember that it can serve a vital function. The right amount of stress can lead to greater performance and increased focus. After all, the stress response is what helped our early ancestors react to predators in the wild. It can prompt a state of hyper-awareness and clear focus on the present. Harnessing the energy of stress for good can make it a valuable tool.
The ways that stress can make daily life more challenging are well-known: fatigue, headaches, anxiety, sleep issues, and irritability. What’s more, excessive levels of stress can damage health through increasing blood pressure, decreasing immune system function, and making it hard to manage weight.
With positive stress, harness the energy it brings to put yourself into a state of “flow”. Take note of when you are feeling the right amount of stress and find the factors that drive it so that you can try to replicate those conditions when you need it most. It typically comes when the challenge of an activity is well-matched with the top of your skills. The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the state of flow this way: “[You are] completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost.”
With negative stress, identify its sources and finding ways to decrease them or lessen their effects is critical. This requires a careful eye, looking for what drives you to feel that extra pressure.