Can stress be a good thing?

At work – as in all walks of live – it is an absolute given that stress is considered a bad thing. Humans have a competitive nature and we are programmed to strive to achieve the highest results possible and to be the best at whatever we do. It is clear then why we as humans are also prone to stress. As a word, stress has all sorts of bad connotations; from hindering performance to causing health issues. So what exactly are the problems caused by stress? Can stress actually be a help as well as a hindrance?

Image via jetheriot (Flickr)

Stress can be caused by a whole range of things; pressure to perform at work, problems with family or relationships, tight deadlines – the list goes on. It is no secret that feeling stressed and under pressure leads to nerves, which can in turn affect performance. Nerves often affect how we think, causing us to over-think tasks and scenarios and clouding our ability to deal with them. Nerves and stress complicate tasks that should be easy and energy is wasted as nervous energy. There are of course plenty of methods of dealing with minor stress, from herbal remedies to breathing techniques. Athletes deal with the threat of stress and nerves through extensive preparation, by analysing the competition, getting to know the court and of course through a lot of practice. This tactic can be applied on other occasions when people are prone to stress. A good example is exam preparation; students practise papers under exam conditions, simulating conditions as close as possible to those of the exam to find out how they cope under stressful circumstances. Even with preparation, nerves are rarely kept completely at bay. Despite this, being as prepared as possible will without doubt reduce the number of unknown elements of a task or situation to feel stressed about. Effects of long-term stress are harder to deal with. Unhandled, stress can eventually lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, exhaustion and depression. It is absolutely undeniable that stress can bring about problems, but can we channel stress to work for us, rather than letting it develop and become a real problem?

So if we forgot all the negative connotations for a moment, what exactly would stress be? A burst of energy and concentration on the requirements of a particular task. Through all the nervous panicking that we do due to stress, we often ignore the fact that stress hormones also bring about a faster heartbeat, sharpened senses and adrenalin. In other words, exactly the things that help you get a task done. Considering these physical manifestations, stress can be viewed as your body’s way of telling you what needs to be done. A moderate amount of stress gives us a short term buzz, enabling us to work efficiently and perform tasks to a high level. After all, when is it that most of us get things done? It’s usually when we are under pressure from a looming deadline! By looking out for stress and using it to complete tasks as opposed to running away from it, we can channel stress into productive energy, turning it into a help rather than a hindrance.

Stress does of course affect everybody differently, so how it can be used to positive effect depends on the individual. I’m not suggesting for a moment that serious stress should be ignored completely; this could of course have severe implications. A little extra energy used as motivation on the other hand never hurt anyone. It’s all about analysing the situation and taking control rather than letting stress take control of you!

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