In Part 1 of this 2-part essay on stress management, I advocated for constructing a “Personal Stress Filter” in your brain to consciously evaluate stress triggers BEFORE reacting to them. Effectively dealing with stress means not letting destructive reflexive emotions control your life. And inserting a powerful, efficient filter between destructive emotions and destructive behaviors is your single most valuable tool in managing stress.
Part 2 is about making stress your friend – separating good stress from bad stress, and harnessing good stress to improve your health, longevity and quality of life.
First of all, it is important to clarify that we’re only talking here about every-day mild to moderate stress – not intense, chronic stress. That level of stress is destructive, unhealthy and dangerous. If you experience serious chronic stress, seek help now. Don’t hesitate. There is no way to live a full, productive, happy life burdened by intense, chronic stress.
What is good stress and how do you manage it to strengthen and enrich your life?
Here are 6 ways to identify good stress and harness it:
1 Harness the biology of courage
Mild to moderate stress triggers the pituitary to produce the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin prepares the body to meet challenges. It protects the cardiovascular system from the effects of stress. Your blood vessels stay more relaxed so blood flows more easily. You become less anxious, more confident… more courageous. (1)
2 Believe stress is not harmful
In a study of 30,000 adults over 8 years, participants who experienced substantial stress in the past year and believed that stress is harmful had a 43% greater chance of dying compared to those who believed that stress is not harmful. Just educating yourself to understand and genuinely believe that mild to moderate stress is not harmful can significantly increase your chances of living longer. (2)
3 Connecting and caring for others minimizes the effects of stress
People who cared for others and experienced mild to moderate stress showed NO stress-related increase in the chances of dying. Oxytocin builds the body’s resilience dealing with stress. (3)
A Penn State study (4) found that “experiencing stress made people both more likely to give and also to receive emotional support from another person. They called it “Social Support.”
4 Stress improves cognitive function
Oxytocin produced from mild to moderate stress strengthens the connection between neurons. The result is better memory, better focus and attention span and increased productivity. In other words, that stress you feel when you’re under pressure to meet that deadline or ace that writing assignment is literally improving your brain power, not threatening it. (5)
5 Stress toughens you
Embracing good stress as a competitive advantage enables you to confront stressful situations head on rather than fearing them. Continually dealing with and overcoming stressful situations is like training a boxer to absorb punches and keep fighting to win each round of the fight. Stress builds resiliency IF you believe it’s your friend, your trainer, your competitive advantage. Don’t avoid life’s challenges. Confront them head on. You’ll get tougher and tougher.
6 Mild to moderate stress increases your “capacities”
When you do not fear stress, you’re more likely to choose more challenging activities… energizing you to set goals that can keep you excited about life… a bigger life! (6)
In summary, stress results not from an incident itself, but rather how you interpret it - threatening or constructive. The more conscious and intentional you are about stress triggers… the more confident and unafraid you are about experiencing stress… the less control stress will have over your life.
I'm fundamentally a shy introvert. Owning a substantial marketing/branding firm for almost 40 years trained me to continually venture beyond my comfort zone. And while I sometimes got overwhelmed by the challenges, most of the time I found a way to overcome my shyness and power through to a successful outcome.
And every time I did, I became a little more emboldened to escape my comfort zone the next time opportunity presented itself. I refused to let stress rule my life. I LEARNED how to deal with it.
Reach out and enlarge YOUR life. Seek out challenges. Train yourself to welcome stress as your friend. It is only making you a better person.
Our mission at EverAgeless.com is to advocate for living an ageless life – not confined by or defined by age, by any point in time, by anything.
Embracing good stress is one of your most valuable capabilities to strengthen. Work at it and see the difference in your life.
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(1) Jeremy P. Jamieson et al., “Mind over matter: Reappraising arousal improves cardiovascular and cognitive responses to stress”, Journal of Experimental Psychology, August 2012
(2) Abiola Keller et al., “Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality”, Health Psychology, September 2012
(3) Michael J. Poulin et al., “Giving to others and the association between stress and mortality”, American Journal of Public Health, September 2013
Other Sources for this post:
My favorite TED Talk on stress: https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend