Complaints about stress are a norm in today’s demanding world. Be it students, professionals or even the unemployed; stress is now something of a pandemic. We use the word ‘stress’ when we feel overloaded by work or begin to believe there is more pressure on us than we can handle. Life is not in the habit of giving us one challenge at a time, or coddle us by announcing it before it descends upon us. Everyone has faced the feeling of being completely overwhelmed and unable to function properly.
Doctors tell you it’s bad for your health and people take different kinds of measures trying to manage stress. But it’s important to understand what stress really is in order to deal with it in the best possible way. Stress is not just the pressure you feel, but also how your body reacts to it. It is a response system that prepares you for the challenges coming your way. The following points elaborate on what really happens to you when you’re under stress:
Essentially, stress is the body’s response to a sudden threat or danger. It comprises of a series of changes in your body that prepare you to face whatever challenge is in front of you. When you’re facing a threat, you can choose to either fight it or run away from it. Both reactions require additional energy. The stress response triggers your nervous system to start pumping chemicals like epinephrine and cortisol. These chemicals travel to all the cells of your body, preparing them for action. So when your boss threatens to fire you if you don’t meet his deadline, your body undergoes stress. Consequently the chemicals released increase the stress you feel about getting the work done.
The extra energy needed for fight or flight comes from a number of bodily changes. The chemicals released make your heart pump faster in order to increase the blood flow. Your breathing becomes more rapid, allowing you to take in more oxygen. Muscles get tensed in case you need them for fast action. The sweaty palms, thumping heart and shorter breathes you feel when under pressure is your body getting ready to tackle the challenge. Constantly being in such a state can be quite taxing, which is why chronic stress is associated with a number of physical and mental health issues.
There is such a thing as good stress, more commonly known as eustress. When the challenge in front of you is something you really want, the stress experienced is good for you. It’s exactly what you need to forge on ahead. For example, when you finally get that promotion you’ve been hankering after, the extra work that comes with it can put you under pressure. However, since you wanted the job you see the pressure as demanding and not threatening. You’ll think of it as an opportunity to learn and grow. This difference in appraisal is all it takes to change the effects of stress from bad to good. Eustress is perceived as within our coping abilities. Because of this it not only improves our performance but also feels exciting.
Now that you know how stress works, you can consider using it to your advantage. Studies have shown that people who believe that stress is good for them manage to reap its benefits without having to suffer from any of the health issues commonly associated with stress. These surprising findings are the reason why health psychologist Kelly Mcgonigal regrets having spent a decade, telling people stress is bad. Stress doesn’t have to be a reason to complain; it can actually be your friend.