Positive Stress: A Life-Changing Mindset

Dealing with stress isn’t an exact science. In fact, sometimes it isn’t even under our direct control. Our bodies are good at avoiding things they don’t like; because of this, the skills and tools we develop in response are often subconscious. Some of these reactive behaviors aren’t always best for us: We put things off, do a poor job, or get angry or sad.

That said, it’s important to recognize that there’s such a thing as positive stress. As this National Institutes of Health (NIH) piece on effective stress management explains, it’s all about controlling the stressors we can change — and changing our reactions to those we can’t.

Facing Stress Head On

I recently came to realize I’d been practicing many of the NIH’s tips months before I ever read the article. My personal stress-reduction journey has been about eliminating procrastination from my life. My logical mind knows that dealing with most problems is like ripping off the proverbial bandage: Handling it now and going on my way is almost always easier than worrying about it. For the longest time, however, I let the anxious parts of my brain win and turned a blind eye to my stressors much more often than I should have.

One day, tired of the repercussions that came with my habits, I started doing whatever I was fretting about the minute I started worrying. If that wasn’t possible, I’d do everything I could to prepare. If neither of those options were available? Hey, I tried my best.

The Big and the Small

I understand some answers aren’t as easy as “deal with it.” Worrying about the laundry you’ve left unfolded on the couch for days is entirely different from the stress that comes with major car trouble or problems at work. Even so — and this is where I found my strategy meshed with the NIH article — fixing the things I could tackle made the bigger problems seem, well, smaller. Coping this way also gave me the confidence to tackle those larger issues. It was that “positive stress” (aka eustress) stuff I kept hearing about, but always wrote off as a myth.

On the contrary, some types of stress aren’t good for us at all. Ignoring them for too long can potentially cause serious health problems, and many of them aren’t within our control.

But it’s possible to put some of our stress to work in a positive way. For some of us, this might include breathing exercises, yoga, and other techniques as outlined in the NIH article. For others like me, it may come down to eliminating the bad habits that make stress compound, or channeling the stress into a drive to get things done. By changing our behaviors and attitudes to embrace stress and use it as a motivational tool, we can put the larger problems in perspective — or at least make them less unwieldy.

What are your go-to stress-relief techniques? How do you turn distress into eustress?

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