Stress has a pretty bad wrap sheet. Stress gets the blame for everything from heart attacks and diabetes to strokes and addiction…anything goes wrong, we blame stress. Stress gets everyone uncomfortable and scared, and we are increasingly looking for ways to decrease our stress levels. We use medication, alcohol, drugs and comfort food to try and reduce stress.
I think this approach is all wrong. What if we saw stress as a challenge to drive us to great heights and not a threat that needs to be avoided?
What if we embraced stress? Stress is normal. Stress is stimulating. Stress is evolutionary. It keeps us alive. Stress is not the enemy. The problem is the type of stress we have, how long it lasts, and how we’ve been taught to deal with everyday stress.
In this article, we are going to look at 6 reasons why we need stress in our life. Once armed with this information, you will stop putting energy into decreasing stress and turn that energy towards increasing your ability to utilise stress.
6 reasons Stress is good for you
- Stress fires you up: For thousands of years, humans have been kept alive by our fight or flight response to stress. For cavemen, it helped them escape Tigers by prioritising the parts of the body that are required for running or fighting. Stress produces adrenaline which causes the heart rate to increase, breathing to quicken (more oxygen) and gets oxygen and energy to our muscles. In short, stress fires you up to get stuff done. Procrastination is always cured by the stress of a looming deadline or impending exam. Stress gives you the energy to get stuff done.
- Builds pride from inside: Overcoming a stressful situation is where your pride in yourself is generated. The body produces the feel-good chemical serotonin whenever we do something that makes us proud. Without adversity, challenges and stress we don’t produce serotonin and run the risk of depression. Most modern antidepressants (Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro…) are all about keeping serotonin in the system. In a lot of cases, these drugs can be replaced by embracing stress, getting stuff done and being proud of yourself.
- Need stress to grow: Anyone who has ever set foot in a gym, run a marathon or trained for a sport will tell you “if you want to get better, you have to push yourself.” Pushing yourself is stressful, you don’t know if you can lift that extra 5kg on your bench press, but you have to try if you are going to improve. The same rules apply to business, relationships or anything worthwhile. To grow, you need to leave your comfort zone, and that produces stress.
- Stress builds resilience: Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. Resilience is essential in all aspects of life, and building resilience requires stress. You can’t recover from difficulties if you spend your entire life avoiding challenging situations. Embrace the stress, because overcoming those situations is where you build your belief that you can handle the next thing that comes your way. Toxic stress occurs when you think you can’t handle the situation. You can! Building resilience reassures us that we can handle any situation and decreases toxic stress.
- Stress creates tenacity: Like resilience, tenacity helps you stick with difficult tasks even when the going gets tough (and the going will always get tough). Tenacity is where you take the challenge response to stress, and it uses the fight or flight response to help you overcome hurdles. Business leaders like Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Elon Musk did not get to where they are by stopping at road blocks. They utilised stress and had the tenacity to work harder and smarter to find solutions.
- Stress creates bonds: Ever notice how old war buddies remain mates 50 years on? In another throwback to caveman times, the social bond generating hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress response. Oxytocin is designed to make us find people to help in times of stress. Evolution and biology have ensured that in times of stress you build stronger bonds with the people in your tribe. Oxytocin has also been shown to protect your heart from damage. Overcoming adversity is a fantastic way to bring people together, whether in sport, business or family.
Armed with these six reasons, I have a challenge for you: Rethink your attitude to stress. View stressful situations as a challenge to bring out your best rather than a threat that needs to be avoided. By doing this, stress will be the short term power booster it’s designed to be.
Rethinking your attitude to stress is the best way to eliminate the harmful effects of stress while embracing the challenges that life throws our way.