The word stress has been demonized. We’re actively told to avoid stress at all costs and that it’s been linked with numerous negative physiological and psychological outcomes. But the issue is that we’re looking at stress the wrong way.
Stress is something that can be utilized and practiced every day to prepare you for the rigor of day-to-day life. Those who have handled, mastered and practiced using stress regularly see it as a benefit and not a burden. Many of us know that when rewards come easily we don’t find them as pleasing, and when we struggle to achieve a goal it is all the more valuable. This form of stress has created some of the greatest minds of the modern era.
It’s this type of mentality that has created some of the greatest minds in the modern era. J.K. Rowling was stressed when she was let go for brainstorming too often at work. As a result, she struggled to feed her family. Finding her path through that stress, she created one of the greatest children’s book series of all time.
Walt Disney said upon being fired for a lack of creativity, “I was stressed, but I can’t change anything about this situation and I must learn to live with the fact that I can’t stress over anything that I cannot change.”
Steve Jobs was stressed when he was fired from Apple. When he dealt with that stress, he created another incredible company called Pixar.
Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and philosopher, whose writings have survived the past 2000 years, actively sought out stress on a day-to-day basis.
These great people not only deal with stress, they sometimes would deliberately expose themselves to it—to learn, grow and excel. Stress is a matter of perception, and there is a body of data that shows exposing yourself to the right kind of stress physiologically and psychologically is beneficial for both your health and longevity.
Exposing Yourself to Stress
This form of stress is called eustress. Eustress is described as beneficial stress. The prefix “eu” means ‘good’ in Greek. There are many forms of eustress—psychological, physical or biochemical. Adopted by some of the top performers in the world, eustress is closely linked with stoic philosophy and has recently been popularized by the books Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy by author Ryan Holiday.
These books and philosophy teach us to treat stress as what it is, an opportunity to test ourselves against adversity and difficulty. The greatest coach in NFL history, Bill Belichick, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton uses eustress and stoicism to face the trials of day-to-day life in their high-level roles. The same trend is being utilized by scientists to promote physiological benefits in our health. As a personal trainer, I deliberately expose myself to a physically stressful morning routine to improve my overall health.
I begin the morning with 30 air squats and 30 press ups. The exercise is positive stress applied to the muscles, as a result, my body releases endogenous opioids known as endorphins, which are the feel good factor we get post-exercise.
I follow this with a cold shower—think 14°C or less—for five to ten minutes, conditions that induce hypothermia after prolonged exposure. Once used as a previous cure for depression in the early 1900’s, this practice releases noradrenaline in an attempt to move the body. This then amplifies the stress caused from the previous exercise.
I then drink a cup of my own green tea mixture. This stops the degradation of the noradrenaline released from the exercise and the cold shower by inhibiting an enzyme mechanism. This is another positive stress response for the body.
All of these things are stressors which infer a number of short-term and long-term health benefits. The same mentality is applied to my day-to-day life. As a business owner, I expose myself to stress psychologically. Each day I do something that many people would consider scary or bizarre.
I buy a coffee for a stranger.
I won’t eat for the entire day.
I barter for a discount on an already discounted product.
I live off only $5 per day.
I am consistently exposing myself to stress so I can respond to it with cheer and happiness when my fortune turns and I inevitably have to face adversity. And our fortunes will always turn, we just don’t know when.
You’ve been fired? Good, you can now practice the art of interviewing and pitching your skills to prospective employers.
Has your work been deleted on a tight timeline? Great, you can now write it again and with greater insights while testing your time management abilities.
You’re down to your last dollar and have bills to pay? This is a learning opportunity for being resourceful and finding innovative ways of creating money.
Stress is ultimately a matter of perception and like any obstacle or adverse event, it can be turned to your benefit.
Start practicing with things that scare you daily and you will no longer respond to stress with anxiety and fear. It will just be another challenge to learn, grow and improve from.