Good and Bad Stress

Good and Bad Stress

Is Stress Really All Bad?

Our Development Manager, Kellie O’Dowd has written on the good and bad associations with stress, and how they can impact our relationships.

Stress gets a bad reputation no matter what, but research tells us that it can actually be a good thing under the right circumstances. Good stress can motivate you and help you perform better on a task when it comes in small doses, so how do we distinguish “good stress” (discomfort that helps you grow) from “bad stress” (stress about stress, or distress?)

Generally, good stress is short-term and pushes you to accomplish better things. In these situations, you tend to have some control over the outcome and the stress can motivate you. Bad stress can be short-term or long-term, and is often accompanied by feelings of helplessness because you don’t have a lot of control over what’s happening and you may begin to feel crushed or stuck.

It would be great to just eliminate the stressors that don’t benefit you from your life and be done with them. But that’s just not realistic. If did do that, we might end up with no career, no home, friends or family, no car, no food, and no real way of taking care of ourselves or our loved ones.

Brief stints of stress have been shown to enhance learning and brain function. This short-term stress isn’t around long enough to do much damage to the body and engages our natural, beneficial fight-or-flight response that we need for survival. Even though we are excited about something, we can still feel stressed out about it.

A deadline, for example, can be a source of good stress if it helps you focus and accomplish a project or job, provided you have time to relax and recover once it’s over. However, if you feel you are always running to meet constant deadlines, you may find yourself exhausted, and your performance could become weaker, without adequate time to recover. This type of situation causes bad, ongoing stress which can lead your body and performance to suffer, so that fight-or-flight response which can give you a advantageous edge or even save your life in the short-term is lost.

Your immune, reproductive, excretory, and digestive systems are unable to return to normal while a threat is perceived, and all those things associated with stress; heart disease, trouble focusing, irritability, memory loss, depression, weight gain, really do begin to become a risk.

Whether the stress started out as good or bad, if it doesn’t go away, you’ll begin to suffer over time.

Accept what you cannot change (like traffic) and change what you can control. Worrying and shallow breathing still won’t make the traffic move any faster. You can turn on your favourite music a sing your heart out while you wait or make phone calls to let people know you have been caught in traffic and are running late.

Remind yourself to breathe deeply. Sometimes when we’re stressed, we forget to breathe or we take little shallow breaths that don’t help release that stress and tension. Try square or box breathing. Breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds and hold for 4 seconds. Repeat for as long as you need to.

Instead of giving yourself the unclear diagnosis of “stress,” see if you can be more specific. Try out statements that start like “I’m noticing that I’m disappointed about…” or “I’m realising that I feel fearful of…”. or “I am feeling resentful about…….”.

This gives you the opportunity to isolate the emotions that are causing your stress, like nervousness, responsibility, or fear of failure. Then you can move forward from a place of recognition, rather than remaining stuck and anxious.

Begin a daily meditation practice or gratitude practice. Stressful situations will roll off your back more often, and if something does get to you, the effects won’t last as long.

Movement helps shift stress. Yoga, a walk in nature, a bath, or whatever makes you feel amazing when you’re done will help you release some of that stressful energy.

There is no way to go through life without experiencing stress. But hopefully, you can use the tips above to respond to your stress in ways that better serve you.

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