There is good stress and bad stress, but it is bad stress that gets all the headlines.
As a nation, we are seriously stressed out. And according to the American Psychological Association, our stress levels are rising.
How serious is the situation? Carnegie Mellon University reports that “stress wreaks havoc on the mind and body.” This may sound like exaggeration, but they are dead serious. Chronic stress can lead to premature aging, heart problems, mental health issues, an increased risk of suicides and a list of other tragic health problems.
And surprisingly, the younger you are, the more you might be feeling the pain of it. Millennials report being the most stressed of all the age groups —41 percent chronically— mostly about money. That’s not a surprise considering 40 percent of unemployed adults are millennials.
Chronic stress wears you down and can make you feel like disengaging from things that once brought you joy. Retreating from life and spending more time in bed as an escape leads to muscle wasting weakness. Stress may lead to too much drinking or seeking relief with pills.
Stress can be caused by actual and imagined threats. Both trigger the release of the same stress hormones that create health problems if stress becomes chronic. Imagined threats happen when we give attention to our fears and worries. These have a greater tendency to become chronic. Stressful situations in real life tend to be episodic, they come and go and we have time to calm down, recover and regenerate. But, a worry or a fear of what might happen is something we can easily stew in without end, making the stress chronic.
Negative mood and behaviors reinforce each other and can eventually lead to a downward spiral of overall health and wellbeing.
But, what about good stress? It is literally the opposite of bad stress in the way it makes us feel and in the amazing good health effects it produces. It is motivating, uplifting and empowering. Harnessing good stress can help put you on a positive path mentally and physically.
Here’s how to make good stress work for you:
Exercise is proven to reduce stress, fight disease, reduce fatigue, improve concentration, and increase your mental and physical abilities. Harvard Medical School confirms that breath meditation is also a great way to relieve stress. And, practicing breath meditation while exercising combines the stress relieving power of both. This is how and why it works. Worrying is a stressful but passive act disguising itself as “doing something”. It might seem to be helping you avoid threats. But, our attention can only do so much at once. The more your attention is consumed by worries the less it is capable of doing in reality. A new study has demonstrated that stress diminishes our ability to detect and adjust to actual emerging threats in reality. A big part of why something as simple as listening to your breath while you focus on proper resistance exercise form and movement is so effective at reducing stress is because of what you cannot do at the same time. You cannot stress over the worries and fears in your mind. The good stress of being absorbed in healthy and challenging movements to the rhythm of your breath literally leave bad stress behind. Released from bad stress our autonomic systems are free to disengage from its fight or flight responses and relax and regenerate.
Want to get started? Look here for a very complete at home or in the gym action plan which is inexpensive and medically accurate from Harvard Publications.
Bit by bit, good stress becomes a powerful force.
Want inspiration? Take a look at this truly amazing real life success story that reveals how miraculous applied good stress can be in reversing a situation that had seemed hopeless. Lynne turned her stress about work, money and life outward and started doing strength training three times a week instead of sitting at home on the couch feeling the anxiety of what had become of her health. Over time, with increasing strength as her goal, that good stress changed everything for Lynne. Her story will help you see how a path to a whole new future, one with the wind at your back, is within your reach.
There are several more stunning stories, some of which may speak to you very personally, posted here. Each path is personal and unfolds in its own individual way, but the principles, which you will find easy to understand, are the same and apply universally.
Don’t think about it, just dive in. That is the first step.