Stress has copped a bad rap over the years and is often viewed as a solely negative aspect of life, but stress isn’t all bad. In fact stress can be extremely beneficial in the right circumstances.
There are several definitions of stress, one being- A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.
Stress can affect us in a number of ways, the primary forms of stress being emotional, mental and physical. Stress is essentially pressure on a system, which is either beyond that particular systems ability to cope with it or a form of imbalance affecting homeostasis. As individuals, our ability to cope with stress varies significantly, some people are able to tolerate and even thrive in stressful environments where they experience high levels of stress, while others will crumble with very little stimulus. The key distinction between those who have the capacity to handle high levels of stress and those who do not, is awareness and conditioning.
Awareness of ones limitations and boundaries ensures an individual will not push beyond their capacity to deal with a source of stress. Conditioning is stress specific training and fitness, allowing an individual to handle increasing levels of stress over time. If you push yourself during an exercise routine, your body will experience physical and mental stress during the exercise, this stress will then result in an increase in fitness in both areas. So applying physical stress in the form of exercise actually increases ones ability to cope with this particular type of stress. The same can be said of other sources of stress, whether they are emotional or mental. Another example is stress related anxiety caused by the anticipation of public speaking. Most people do not enjoy public speaking, however it is possible to adapt to this stress over time. Those that have learned to thrive in this particular environment have endured this source of stress and anxiety with enough frequency to normalize the affects on their system.
By incrementally applying and increasing levels of stress in different forms, we all have the capacity to challenge the boundaries in our lives. By developing stress fitness, we open up the possibilities in our lives and push our individual boundaries farther from their initial starting point. It is important however, to understand ones boundaries in a truthful sense. I say truthful because we often set false boundaries based on false beliefs, meaning we are allowing the stress and anxiety from a particular source to scare us from progressing in life. When you start thinking you cannot achieve something, you avoid the opportunity to improve through adaptation to stress, it is important to consider whether this particular goal has been achieved before. Take the example of public speaking. An individual may think that it is impossible for them and truly believe it to be impossible for them, but the evidence would show that numerous people throughout history have become confident speakers despite their doubtful beginnings.
Honest awareness of our boundaries is important because there is a point where stress can overwhelm us. When the stress load increases beyond our ability to cope, we set ourselves up for trauma, this is called ‘Allostatic load’. For some people this can result in a physical, emotional or mental breakdown, which may manifest in a number of ways. You wouldn’t attempt to scale Mt Everest or run a marathon with no training nor would you speak to an audience of 5000 people when you have come from a state of extreme anxiety.
If you desire more from life, it is important to develop honest awareness of your boundaries and limitations, while at the same time be willing to incrementally increase the stress load to ensure your individual conditioning to stress also increases.