The basic definition of stress is any stimuli which creates a response in the body. The stimuli can be either internal or external, imagined or real. Regardless, it has an impact in your life.
We generally experience stress as being either good or bad. Good stress (eustress) doesn’t necessarily conjure negative feelings but can still impact you and cause burn out. Bad stress (distress) is usually associated with a negative event or something we dislike.
When I’m experiencing bad stress, you’ll hear me sigh, swear a little more frequently, and talk about how overwhelmed and exhausted I am. I’ll often fall into a OMG it’s all on me to-do-everything! attitude (which is not actually accurate).
Sometimes there are pain-in-the ass, all-consuming thought monsters that just get in our heads and cause us to generate our own stress. These villains spur thoughts or ideas that don’t serve us well and often set unrealistic expectations of perfectionism which generates little anxiety trolls. Over extended periods of time, this can make a person feel their fortune is controlled by external factors and induce a chronic crisis mode. This is the kind of stress that needs to be wrangled and addressed.
External stresses are usually ones that we can change or control to some degree–either by physically leaving a place or by learning to accept or manage things we don’t really like–such as big crowds or lots of noise.
But good stress (also known as adaptive stress) can be exciting and push us to do our best and reach our peak potential. It helps us stretch our comfort zone and be our best. I like embracing my Type A traits ‘cuz I get shit done, stretch myself and grow. I like the feel-good endorphins (dopamine) being activated.
But when there’s a prolonged period of tight deadlines, heavy workload and schedule, or juggling too many things for too long… it’s no longer a positive (eustress) and moves into the negative (distress). That’s because prolonged exposure to adrenaline and or the “fight or flight” response which is activated under fear excitement or pressure, can be detrimental.
The trick is to moderate the positive stress and pressure by sprinkling in doses of good time management and goal setting, proper sleep, exercise, nutrition and self-care and making time for friends and family. Confidence in your ability to handle stress and the feeling of having control over the stressor also lessens the impact and the negative response to stress.
- Identify what you have control over – this is harder than it sounds and may require getting real with yourself and battling some of those thought monsters.
- Decide what you can roll with – are there things you spend a disproportionate amount of time worrying about in relation to their actual importance to you?
- Find you – what excites you and pushes you to grow and then add those dashes of healthy balance to moderate the adaptive stress.