June 2, 2015

5 Benefits of Stress.

Nervous stressed

I recently ran a Spartan Sprint, which is an extreme obstacle course race testing the mental and physical stamina of its participants.

On my participant package at registration reads the following:

“The Spartan Race is a dangerous and demanding extreme sporting/racing event. THERE IS A REAL POSSIBILITY THAT YOU MAY DIE OR BE CATASTROPHICALLY INJURED. Each participant voluntarily and knowingly accepts and assumes all risk of participating in the event.”

Despite this warning, thousands of people participate in each of these races on a regular basis, along with dozens of other races similar to it. Why would anyone subject themselves to this? Some of us like a good challenge. And by challenge, I mean a euphemism for stress.

Wait—some of us like stress?!

What if I told you there is a good side to stress? Believe it or not, stress plays a very important role in our lives, especially in regards to survival. Lets look at why stress is important.

1. Stress keeps a fire under our butt!

Stress keeps us motivated to keep moving toward a goal. For example, if we need food, water or shelter to survive, thats a major stressor, and we will work until we get that stress resolved. If you don’t care, you’d probably die! If we are worried about our financial situation as an adult, that stress can cause us to look for a better job or to return to school so we can be more financially secure. Bottom line, stress pushes us to achieve needed or desired goals.

2. Stress provides connections with others.

If you don’t experience stress, you are missing out a lot of the experience of being human. Lucky you! However, stress is a common experience among humans and we often share our experience (or commiserate) to gain emotional connections with others. It helps us build empathy and compassion for others as well, since we have likely been in a similar place in our lives.

3. Stress keeps us performing at our best.

Scientists have discovered there is an optimal level of stress that produces optimal performance. When we are stressed at just the right level (mild to moderately) we do our best work! Psychologists refer to this as Yerkes-Dodson Law. Another concept in positive psychology, called “flow” (known commonly as being “in the zone”) also requires a certain level of stress, or challenge, along with a high level of skills to meet that challenge, to get “in the zone.”

If you have ever had this feeling, you know there is nothing quite like it! Everything you are doing is clicking and working together effortlessly, and you feel entirely focused on your task. Without an adequate stressor, this would not push you to your limits in terms of your skills.

4. Stress is information about how we are doing emotionally.

Do you cry at the drop of a hat? Do you lose your temper over something minor? If those little things are getting to us more than they used to, that’s information that maybe we haven’t been taking care of ourselves as much as we should be lately, and we need to recharge our batteries.

Do something fun or relaxing! Take a vacation! When we don’t take care of ourselves or stretch ourselves too far, we aren’t able to tolerate as much as we normally could. In this case, stress is a barometer of how hard we have been pushing ourselves, and if it’s too high, we need to tone it down a little bit by doing something for ourselves. If we keep pushing ourselves without recharging our batteries, we don’t perform as well, lose our concentration more easily and become more emotional.

5. Stress increases our mental flexibility.

“What does not kill me, makes me stronger.” Cliche as it may sound, the more stressful events we encounter, face and master, increases our ability to think outside of the box and deal with difficult events in the future. This is also referred to as resilience. If we spend our lives running away from stress, what happens when we have a situation we cannot escape from for the first time? We have no idea what to do and no confidence in ourselves to think we can handle it. Being able to face our stress is the first step in not letting it control us.

Note that too much anxiety or stress can also be harmful, as explained in Yerkes Dodson Law, there is an optimal level of stress. Too much or too little is no good, and especially for prolonged periods of time. The middle path always benefits the most, so be sure you keep your stress at a manageable level.

The warning you see above is not specific to a race, but for life. By taking the adventurous path, you do risk your life and injury, both physically and mentally. But you are also pushing yourself to limits that you never knew you could handle, and increasing the belief in yourself that you can do this and keep going.

If we didn’t have stress, we wouldn’t know what we are capable of!

Next time stress stares you in the face, stare right back and accept the challenge before you. Who says you can’t do it? Only you, if you choose.



10 Ways to Beat Stress.


Author: Candice Ackerman

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

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