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Don’t Mess With Stress

How To Harness It To Reach Your Goals

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There are ways to harness stress and make it work for you instead of against you. Photo by Luis Villasmil
There are ways to harness stress and make it work for you instead of against you. Photo by Luis Villasmil

There are some things you just don’t play around with. Like that old Jim Croce song says, “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with Jim.”

And there’s one more don’t to add to the list: You don’t mess with stress because it’s more powerful than you and me; it’s always around. It loves a good fight, and like a pig wallowing in mud, it always wins. And when it wins it makes you miserable, destroys relationships, undermines your health and it can kill.

Let’s face it. Job stress is a fact of life, it’s here to stay and you can’t get rid of it. If you’re like most people, you might think of it as an enemy infiltrator. Perhaps you ignore it, battle it or try to extinguish it, but if you harness it and use it in a constructive way, it can fuel your career.

Stress Has Gotten A Bum Rap

In some ways, stress has gotten a bum rap, but it’s not all bad. In fact, a little stress is a good thing—so common that scientist Hans Selye gave it the name eustress in the 1930s. Eustress is the kind of stress that gets you motivated and lets you know you’re fully involved in your life. It helped Simone Biles and Michael Phelps win Olympic gold, Meryl Streep snag her string of Oscars and quarterback Tom Brady win his Super Bowl titles.

Your brain is wired for stress to protect and keep you safe. Like the kick-butt drill sergeant in boot camp who doesn’t want you to get your head blown off in combat, stress warns you of threats and motivates you to stay on course. It keeps you from making a fool of yourself in front of your peers, exposing yourself to ridicule or embarrassment. If stress didn’t keep you on your toes, you might not be as successful in your job, your relationships could crumble, you’d be more susceptible to danger and your life could fall apart.

If you don’t see the truck zooming toward you at 90 miles an hour, you’re road kill. You need to react quickly to threatening situations. If your office is on fire, someone breaks into your house, or you’re in a car wreck or terrorist attack, stress protects you from harm. It issues a warning, and the cells of your body heed its call, drenching you in a cocktail of neuropeptides that create a rapid-fire reaction to the threat in lighting speed. And you can feel the exact moment it dumps a tonic of heart-pounding enzymes into your bloodstream so you can fight or flee.

Once you start to consider all the times stress had your back when you thought it was against you, you will begin to appreciate it for what it is—a wise teacher. Constantly on the lookout, it watches when you’re driving in heavy traffic, searching for your car in a dark parking garage, or struggling to meet a tight deadline. Plus you wouldn’t have as much fun. Stress gives you that thrill and excitement when you’re on a roller coaster, bungee jumping, going on safari, rooting for your Super Bowl team, meeting someone on Match.com, getting married, buying your first house, delivering your first child, or going through the haunted house at Halloween.

A Negative Attitude Toward Stress IS The Stress.

Think about it. How many times have you heard someone suggest that you combat, beat, conquer, fight or battle stress? When you stop to think about it, that makes no sense. Why would you want to beat or conquer something that Mother Nature wired in you to protect you and help you survive? Consider the fact that going to battle creates a fight-or-flight cycle within you. An adversarial relationship between you and stress only keeps you mired in frustration, anxiety and reactivity.

You need your stress. I realize this sounds contradictory. But since you don’t have the power to stop the hard-wired stress anyway, consider using it to your advantage and making those butterflies line up and fly in formation. It’s simple science. Kayakers say the best way to escape when you’re trapped in a turbulent, funnel-shaped current known as a hydraulic, is to relax, and the hydraulic will spit you out. If you fight against the current, it keeps you stuck even drowns you. The same principle holds true to flowing, instead of fighting, when you’re caught in a riptide or leaning into a curve, instead of away from it, when you’re on a motorcycle so you don’t flip. It even applies in natural childbirth where, instead of tightening the body and resisting labor pains, mothers-to-be accept and go with the labor pains, not against them, which reduces both maternal pain and obstetrical problems.

So the next time you encounter a threatening event and feel stress spring into action, try to avoid fighting against it and appreciate it for all it does for you. When you become its ally, instead of adversary, it will pave the way for you to fully engage, optimally perform and thrive in just about anything you attempt.

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