Mental Health

Stress: Good or Bad for You?

 

Stress.

That word alone can make you cringe. It’s got all this bad juju and negative emotions surrounding it that you haven’t wanted anything to do with it.

As I’m currently taking a Women’s Health class, we were instructed to “assess” our stress levels. Getting on to WebMD (of course) to take a quick survey on how well I handle my stress levels made me realize some good and bad facts about stress.

In my life and based on the results of the assessment, I definitely could stand to handle my stress a little better – “Stress Management: Could Be Better” to be specific. Comparatively, my life is pretty ‘cushy’ as they say. As a general overview, I live in a first world country with all of my rights, access to education and healthcare in a beautiful home, nice neighborhood and quaint city. My family is incredibly supportive of me and I get to see them all the time. Engaged, my fiance is incredibly helpful around the house and provides for our family which includes our two large dogs. My work can be a little stressful, but not because anyone’s life is depending on me and rather because I am spread thin between locations. Teaching in the fitness industry usually means you have multiple places of work and having to divide your attention between them can weigh on your time and energy. In addition, I also teach a multitude of different styles of fitness which means I am prepping for different programs while constantly shifting gears throughout the day.

Building a business is probably one of my main stressors because it is always in the back of my mind. Working full time and going back to school is stressful. Maintaining some semblance of a healthy lifestyle while being pulled all over the place and still taking care of my life’s responsibilities can be trying at times. Frankly, I have everything I could ever want and my life is incredibly abundant. (Yes, I realize this.) The stressors I deal with are what comes along with being productive, forward-thinking and motivated to always be growing in the ways I see fit. This kind of stress I would deem more as eustress – the beneficial kind. All these things I consider to be managed well enough, but the biggest burden of all is typically financial stress. This post is not to blab on about the hardships of shiftings careers and going back to school; but acknowledging the emotional repercussions, tensions in my relationships and insecurities in my life created by these changes are an important part of understanding my own difficulties with stress. I know that better times are ahead as I work to grow this business, however, it all takes time. Managing my financial stress admittedly can be the most challenging.

Based on my results, WebMD explained:

You’re taking healthy steps to manage your stress. And it’s helping. Your stress doesn’t seem to be getting to you. Everyone has stress. It’s part of life. And although people usually think stress is bad, it can be good for you. It gives you energy and sharpens your senses to help you power through. The key is how you deal with your stress. You can’t be in an amped-up state all the time. It takes a toll on your mental and physical health.

This makes sense to me and is what I have begun to learn about stress. Simply put, not all stress is bad. (Hurray!)

Stress is not inherently bad for your health and as long as I continue to mitigate my stress response appropriately I should stay relatively healthy. The TED Talk I’ve shared below is a look at the positives of stress. About a year ago I was introduced to the book “The Upside of Stress” by Kelly McGonigal and it significantly shifted the way I’ve come to understand or even speak about stress. Not surprisingly based on my belief of the mind’s power – McGonigal shares how the way we THINK about stress can be more impactful than our physiological response to stress itself.

What?! Whoa.

Take a moment to watch her presentation and see how stress can be a positive thing in your life based on our perceptions.

As for handling my own stress, I find the following helpful:

  • Streamlining Schedule: By planning ahead and scheduling out meals or breaks throughout the day I am better able to handle my workload.
  • Self-Care: By taking time off when necessary blocking out time for the things in my life that satisfy my restoration.
  • Focus on the Moment: By concentrating on the task I am able to give my attention to the present moment. Whether it is a meal with my partner or teaching or school work, being able to provide my undivided attention to the activity eases my mind, so I am not worried about what is coming up next. Instead, appreciating and being wrapped up in the here and now.
  • Mindfulness: When I am feeling a little more stressed, I make time for meditation or revisiting my yoga practice. Being able to focus on breath and/or partnered with movement can calm the mind and nervous system.
  • Physical Activity: When I tend to be emotionally stunted or grasping at getting a handle on my stressful emotions, some good old fashioned strength training usually does the trick. Exercise releases serotonin and feel-good chemicals that get improves your attitude and shifts your perspective to one of greater positivity.
  • Planning and PreparationWhen it comes to financial stress, my most difficult problem, I believe having a plan will help. As I look at our expenditures, chart out budgeting and strategically plan ahead, it eases some stress knowing that there is a solution to the problem. Even planning for the week or day ahead of time can help me better manage my time to ward off stress.
  • Gratitude: When I get wrapped up in all the difficulties of the stress of life, sometimes simple mental reminders of how lucky I am are the cure. Reminding myself of all the things in my life for which I am grateful and lucky to have can reground me. Either creating a specific list or mindfully sending thanks for these things in my thoughts can ease some of my heightened emotions.

Each of these eases my anxiety, balancing out my emotional state and making me feel more optimistic about my state of life. All in all, I live a relatively stress-free life and typically cause any tensions on my own by dwelling on the difficulty instead of taking action. By continuing to keep pace with staying ahead of the game and by doing instead of fretting, I tend to work my way around stress.

How do you view stress and in what ways do you find relief?

 

Credit to TED Global 2013: https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend#t-3619

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