Is Stress Actually Good For You?
The best way to think about life’s challenges...
I’ll admit it...I’m a worrier.
Bills, work deadlines, the future, you name it - I’ve worried about it and lost sleep over it.
If that’s you, you might feel better knowing that even professional athletes admit to vomiting before an event because they’re so nervous.
Stress can make people so anxious they resort to drugs and alcohol to cope, and this only digs them into a deeper hole.
But stress is also an unavoidable part of life. When our hunter-gatherer ancestors were stressed, that stress gave them the energy and drive to plan, hunt, or avoid being eaten. Nowadays, we don’t have to worry about being eaten, so stress has moved to other things like our health, our finances, and whatever’s on the news.
I used to get so stressed and anxious I’d try to distract myself with TV or something else that didn’t require me to move - which only made it worse.
Then one night, lying in bed wide awake, I decided to lace up my shoes and go for a walk. That walk turned into a run, and I noticed that while running, my mind was clear and stress-free for the first time that day.
Here’s what Dr. John J. Ratey - author of Spark - says about the subject:
“The stress of exercise is predictable and controllable because you’re initiating the action, and these two variables are key to psychology. With exercise, you gain a sense of mastery and self-confidence. As you develop awareness of your own ability to manage stress and not rely on negative coping mechanisms, you increase your ability to “snap out of it,” so to speak.”
“What’s gotten lost amid all the advice about how to reduce the stress of modern life is that challenges are what allow us to strive and grow and learn. Just keep in mind the more stress you have, the more your body needs to move to keep your brain running smoothly.”
What’s fascinating is that this is the opposite of how most people view stress management. You’d more likely hear about scented candles, getting more rest, or lying on a couch talking to someone about it.
So it looks like “running from our problems” or to put it better, “running in response to stress” is a much more effective way to cope. And after some exercise (remember, it can be any form of exercise), we can approach whatever’s causing that stress with a clearer head.
Lastly, my favorite way to think about stressful times is to imagine them as weather. Whatever you’re going through, whatever’s stressing you out, it’s not forever. The storm will pass. And you’ll be stronger having weathered it.
But in the meantime, don’t sit in the rain, run through it!