Is It good stress or bad stress? - 3 ways to tell

There are examples all around us. Two NFL coaches collapsing in a single weekend last fall. The Rutgers men’s coach ‘snapping’. Women’s basketball coaches being downed by health issues in recent years.

It’s enough to stress you out

While it’s easy to point to these health issues and blame stress, that’s not quite the whole picture.

Stress is actually really good for the body… that is, as long as it’s administered in the proper amount. It’s a very similar concept to lifting weights: stressing muscles to get them to recover stronger and, therefore, making them work better for us.

The problem arises when we forget about recovery. When we lift weights without allowing for recovery, the end result is physical injury. Just as overdoing physical exercise can lead to physical injury, overloading the mind with more than it can handle leads to a variety of both visible and non-visible problems.

Athletics are stressful. There’s no getting around that.  But where exactly is the line between good stress and bad stress, between growth and breakdown? And how do you know what is the correct amount for you?

The good news is your body will tell you when you’ve reached your optimal stress level… but, first,

You have to listen

Stress as an all-encompassing concept has been made into the devil. It’s referred to as a thing in our lives that needs to be reduced at all cost. Even science has shown that stress contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure, reduced immunity, and can cause other really bad things.

So, that means stress is bad, right?

Well, yes and no.

Like many things, stress can be fragmented into categories. Those categories are distress – BAD stress – and eustress – or GOOD stress.  While bad stress has been shown to do some pretty rotten things (like those listed above), good stress actually does some pretty amazing things.

So, while dis-tress is bad, that’s only half the equation. The other half is

EUSTRESS: moderate or normal psychological stress interpreted as being beneficial for the experiencer.

That’s right! Beneficial! Good stress actually causes hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, and oxytocin to release into our bodies. These hormones can:

In other words, we need stress. More importantly, we need to find that ideal balance where we’re pushed to perform at our best but not shoved beyond our breaking point.

It’s all in your head… but also in your body

Current research shows that our PERCEPTION of stress being harmful actually makes it so.

Wait… what?

That’s right. Let me say it again: believing all stress is bad for you actually makes it bad for you. Essentially you’re psyching yourself out, thereby increasing your stress level. Many times that’s just enough to push you over the ideal peak and drop you into a valley of disaster.

One of the best ways to determine if your stress is helpful rather than harmful is to consider how your body is reacting to it.

Here are 3 ways to tell if you are stressing your body appropriately:

  1. Sleep Quality: Do you fall asleep quickly and feel rested in the morning on most days?
  2. Exercise: Do you exercise regularly?
  3. Mental Rest: Are you able to ‘turn off your mind’ during the day or after work?

If you said ‘yes’ to at least two of these questions, you’re probably managing your stress level well. However, if you said ‘no’ to two or more, you might not be giving your mind adequate recovery time.

Evaluate your stressors

As a coach you know that in order to fix something, sometimes you need to step back and evaluate it. You wouldn’t let your team plow through a play that isn’t working over and over again, hoping it will right itself, would you? Certainly not! You’d pause a moment to identify the problem and address the underlying issue.

That’s what you need to do with your stress.

If, like many people, you've been under the impression that all stress is bad—that stress is a demon to be battled—it’s time to reconsider your stance.

As you go throughout your day, try to identify the different things that trigger both distress and eustress. In other words, those things that make you bored, mentally exhausted, or frustrated, or those things that motivate you, make you more productive, and get you excited.

You don’t need to write those things down. Just contemplate them over the next day or two in preparation for our next article, Stress: Control It or It Will Control You! In that article, we’ll show you how you can tackle BAD stress before it has a chance to wear you down. But, throughout it all,

Remember: Stress isn't always bad

Use it to your advantage. Because stress, like a good diet and adequate sleep, is a necessity and an invaluable tool every athlete can use to play harder, become stronger, and win more.

Man should not try to avoid stress any more than he would shun food, love, or exercise" - Hans Selye
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