When Stress Can Be Good for You

Managing stressDid you know that there’s a positive form of stress that has a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance, and emotional well-being? It’s called eustress. This type of stress could be either psychological or physical (e.g. exercise). Or it could be biochemical, where beneficial effects, such as improved health, stress tolerance, growth or longevity result from exposure to low doses of an agent that would otherwise be toxic or lethal when given at higher doses. The term eustress was coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye, consisting of the Greek prefix eu- meaning “good”, and stress, therefore it literally means good or healthy stress.

Stanford Psychologist, Kelly McGonigal says that we should put our focus on ’embracing stress’ rather than ‘reducing stress’. “Stress isn’t always harmful,” says McGonigal, a business school lecturer at Stanford and program developer for the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. “Once you appreciate that going through stress makes you better at it, it can be easier to face each new challenge.”

Likewise, our productivity and performance can be boosted if we stretch ourselves to the point of ‘optimal anxiety’ which moves us beyond our comfort zone. Our comfort zone is where we feel safe and protected. However, often people stay stuck as they don’t want to move beyond this. Yet many of the good things in our life and new opportunities and experiences happen when we’re willing to extend ourselves beyond our comfort zone.

To maximise performance we need a state of relative anxiety, where our stress levels are slightly elevated so that we have a quality of aliveness and alertness and we’re not just running on autopilot. Getting to that point of optimal anxiety means moving sufficiently far outside of our comfort zone that it requires a stretch. Too much anxiety and all of our stress hormones are too elevated and we can’t get anything good done but at the right amount, we’re operating at our ‘edge’. For example, we see this with atheletes or runners just before they start a race when they are pumped and primed and ready to go! Similarly, when you’re going for an interview, functioning at optimal anxiety helps you to feel mentally alert in order to respond to questions and give a good interview performance.

The primitive part of our brain, the amygdala (our reptilian or ‘critter’ brain) tries to resist change and growth as it wants to avoid risk and stay safe.  Yet often the fear that underlies this resistance to change is simply based on a lack of understanding – as Nobel Prize winning scientist Marie Curie said “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood”. So if we can gain the understanding about the underlying fears or insecurities that are driving our actions and behaviours and causing us anxiety, then this may help us to shift our perspective and adopt more empowering beliefs and approaches instead.

Hopefully, this will allow us to fear less and be able to embrace, rather than shy away from, a healthy level of stress. If we make it a conscious practice to regularly experiment with new ways of ‘being’ and trying new experiences, we can shift beyond our comfort zone and aim for an optimal level of stretch. This will create new neural pathways in our brain and help us to increase our levels of satisfaction and wellbeing, as well as enabling positive changes to occur in our lives.

If you’re feeling overly stressed or overwhelmed and would like our help and support to manage this and empower you to achieve more balance, peace and resilience in your life, have a look at our Life Transformation and Wellbeing Coaching to see how this could help you. We also offer Training and Development, Consultancy Services and both Career Coaching or Executive, Leadership and Team Coaching and Mentoring for individuals, teams and organisations. We can assist you or your team or organisation to develop resilience and confidence, improve your relationships and also help you to achieve enhanced wellbeing. We’ll help you to cultivate a healthy mindset where you’re able to embrace stress in a positive way, whilst improving your productivity and performance.


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