Stress has a negative effect on our wellbeing. Chronic stress can lead to fun things like heart attacks, memory loss and ulcers. This negative stress puts us into distress.
But have you ever heard of eustress? Not the city in Lake County. That’s Eustis. Eustress is a kind of stress that is actually beneficial for the body. It can promote learning, increase strength and stamina.
A healthy stress response is critical for animals in the wild to stay alive. Much like humans, if stress is chronic, they will show signs of disease. Chronic stress may be prolonged periods of captivity or being displaced. However, most animals in the wild face a constant threat of being eaten. Yet this does not contribute negatively to their health. Unless, of course, they get eaten.
There’s an insightful book called Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers written by Stanford University biologist Robert Sapolsky. His research with animals explores theories revolving around our response to stress being a determining factor in illness. When a zebra responds to being chased by a lion, it will go into the fight-or-flight mode. After the threat is over, the zebra does not spend the rest of the day worrying about that lion. The stress is episodic, not chronic.
As humans, we process experiences differently. We may lose sleep every night over the idea that money is scarce. This is chronic stress. The more we escape the present moment into the cave of our fearful mind, the more we induce a chronic state of stress with real physiological consequences.
So how can we stress better? Here are 3 tips to get you on track.
Take your current difficulties and turn them into positive challenges by goal setting them. Goal setting is when you set out to achieve something by establishing measurable goals and timeframes. If money is your primary stressor, write goals you can achieve. Some examples may be to reduce spending by a certain amount each week, find extra sources of income or learn a skill that will increase your earning potential.
A gadfly is a fly that bites livestock, such as a horsefly. Socrates was referred to as a gadfly because his role was “to sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth.” If we try to consider our negative or even traumatic experiences as that of a gadfly, we can allow it to propel us to grow rather than retreat and fail to thrive. While Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is debilitating, Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) is empowering.
When we read biographies of successful people, we often learn of the tragedies they had to overcome in life first. Jackie Chan was dyslexic and failed his first year of school, resulting in his poverty-stricken parents to admit him to a Peking Opera School. In his biography Jackie recalls the many ways they abused him and the other children while trying to follow the strict disciplines required to perform in their shows. He later turned his tragedy into his greatest asset and is considered one of the most accomplished stuntmen and action actors of all times.
This shows how people who learn to reframe their negative experiences as growth opportunities rather than damaging events find more success in life.
A certain amount of routine is necessary. It allows our brain to relax knowing that things are under control. However, our brain works best when having a slightly moderate level of new and novel stimulation. Too little stress can actually lead to boredom and depression. Take a dance class or drive to a different park for your walk. Make changes fun rather than work!