• David Strittmatter

How to make stress your secret weapon

There is more to life than increasing its speed - Mahatma Gandhi

Summary:

  • Virtually everything that takes someone out of his / her comfort zone is a stressor

  • A healthy amount of manageable stress leads to increased brain functioning, a boosted immune system and better preparation for future stressful situations

  • Chronic stress comes down to three aspects: Health, rest, and psychological factors


Practical advice:

  • You need to step out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to new challenges

  • Load the stress on yourself and don't let others do that. It has to be your choice

  • Prevent chronic stress by: Eating healthily and drinking enough water; taking enough breaks; exercising regularly; having a strong why


Dear friend,


This morning, I woke up too late. I forgot to set an alarm so it didn't go off.


Now, when writing this blog, I feel stressed. I know that I lost about an hour and I've got a very tight schedule today.


Even though I hate not being on time, procrastinating, or not getting my to-do list worked through, I love stress. Stress makes me feel alive.


What's clear, there are different levels of stress. And stress isn't something generally good but rather bad. Yet, I'm a great fan of it.


In today's article, I'll write about the different types of stress, argue why stress can be a great tool, point out the risk of chronic stress, and give you tips on how to make use of stress.


Stress is a great booster


First day at work and you're freaking nervous? About to take a crucial exam and you've got shaky hands? That's what we know as stress - our psychological and physical reactions to the physical and mental strain caused by specific external stimuli (stressors). Virtually everything that takes someone out of his / her comfort zone is a stressor.


There're also different types of stress: While a healthy amount of manageable stress leads to increased brain functioning, a boosted immune system and better preparation for future stressful situations, positively affecting emotional health, chronic stress that isn't properly managed causes serious health effects including increased blood pressure, suppressed immune system, greater risk of heart attacks and strokes and an increased chance of experiencing some form of mental or emotional health issues.


Manageable stress is what I love: Having a full-packed to-do list, trying new things out, learning new skills, push myself to achieve a new personal record in lifting or running, talking to new people in new situations, etc. At first, my body and brain clearly signal what a terrible idea it was to expose myself to these stressors. Yet, in the process, I slowly start to fall in love with it. And afterwards, that's the best feeling: You know you left your comfort zone and grew personally - life just got better.


Right now, regarding my full-packed to-do list I'm asking myself why the hell I'm doing that to myself? Why can't you just have an easy weekend? In the same breath, though, I'm carried by the belief that everything will work out anyway. I know it's going to be tight, but I can do it.


Being stressed, I'm more focused, more accurate, more driven, more in the moment. I can produce quicker results and decide faster. I'm not only highly productive but happy once I got started.


When I woke up today, I was literally freaking out. I hate oversleeping. I hate not getting my to-do list done. However, right now, I'm feeling great: I got started, and even though I still lack behind my schedule, I'll get a good amount done. I better aim too high and stress myself than aim too low and have a relaxed time.


Too much stress kills you


It's no secret that chronic stress is bad. But just how bad is it really?


Chronically stressed people experience an inability to concentrate or complete tasks, get sick more often with colds, have body aches, headaches, changes in appetite and trouble falling sleeping or staying awake, are more angry or anxious than usual, suffer from depressions, ...


Moreover, the economic damage caused by chronic stress - related to work and production losses as well as expenditures in the health care system - is estimated at US$ 300 billion annually in the US alone.


That's severe, isn't it?


But when do we experience too much stress?


It may be tough to tell when, but there are important ways that your body lets you know that you’re struggling with too much stress. I know that I'm too stressed for a too long period of time when I'm feeling tired all day long, having problems focusing, experiencing general unhappiness, eating too little, and becoming moody.


I've already thought numerous times about potential reasons for chronic stress, and I concluded that it comes down to three aspects: Health, rest, and psychological factors.

First, we need to take care of our health in order to cope with stressful situations. We can endure a heavy load of stress easily without getting into trouble if we take care of our health. I need to sleep and drink enough, eat healthily, and do sports. Only if these check boxes are marked, I can sustain high levels of stress over a long period of time.


Second, rest is key. If I work three hours without taking a break, my performance will drop substantially. I work a max of 50 minutes without resting in between. Yes, you might work four hours without taking a break. And there might be people who can work even longer. What I can tell you, though, I couldn't sustain effectively working 80 hours a week without having all these breaks.


Lastly and most importantly in the long-run, I need to have a strong why and the right environment. I cannot work 10 hours on a Saturday without having an intrinsic motivator. It kinda sucks not being able to go outside despite the nice weather because I'm too busy and too involved in all my work. But as I know the purpose of doing that, I can sustain this stressor and be an even happier person. What's more, I need the right environment. I cannot be surrounded with naysayers and too strong extrinsically motivated people inhibiting my drive.


How to make stress your secret weapon


First, we want to look at how to harness stress, secondly, we want to discuss ways to prevent chronic stress.


What greatly helps me to make use of stressors: I load them on myself. By writing full-packed to-do lists, setting ambitious goals, and constantly demanding myself to do better, I stress myself. But because I do it by myself, I'm in charge. And this feeling of being fully responsible takes the fear of overwhelming myself since - after all - I can always step on the

brake.


Of course, you need to get in a stressful situation first in order to make use of the status of being stressed. You need to step out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to new challenges. Keep in mind: If you're not a little afraid of your next step, it might be too small.

Finally, how can we prevent chronic stress?

  1. Eat healthily and drink enough water: Veggies and fruits with every meal and at least 8 glasses of water

  2. Take enough breaks: At least 20% of your working time should be dedicated to rest

  3. Exercise regularly: Walk 60 mins per day and do sports

  4. Have a strong why: You cannot work dozens of hours per week without having a clear purpose

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