Have you ever listened to people when they talk about stress? What words do they use to describe it or to support how stressed they are? What words do you use yourself when you talk about stress?
It’s language like this that we use around the topic of stress to indicate our attitude towards it. Our language influences how we view the world and the ways in which we act upon our feelings.
It’s those behaviours that are the most important factor in becoming resilient – it’s what we do when we take action that will either help us bounce back faster, or see us struggle to get back to a comfortable position.
Is stress good or bad?
A good way to look at the role that stress plays in our life is by visualising a cardiac rhythm – it has ups and downs that form a normal heartbeat. Too many quick, high heartbeats can be a signal that your body is under too much pressure. Conversely, a completely flat line is something no one wants to see!
We need that balance to live a healthy and positive life, but we also need to build resilience to bounce back quickly from a high or a low. But before we can moderate our attitude towards stress, it is important that we understand the types of stress that we might encounter.
There are four main types:
1. Acute stress: very short term and is usually what we are referring to when we say we are “stressed’
2. Episodic stress: when acute stress becomes a way of life and can be seen as chaotic or dramatic
3. Chronic stress: seems never-ending and inescapable, and often leads to burnout
4. Eustress: fun and exciting and keeps us vital
So, I don’t want to cut out all stress?
Often, change can breathe new life into tired concepts and practices, even giving way to new ideas and ways of doing things.
Ask yourself; how does this benefit me, my role or my business? Try to remain optimistic until you find the silver lining. Sometimes it can be elusive, but remember, the silver lining can be that you’re being challenged with something new, or that you’re learning a new skill.
Own the change and make it work for you
If we had zero stress in our life, positive or negative, we’d be bored, lethargic, apathetic, and both our minds and our bodies would slowly deteriorate.
A great example of this is when you break a bone. It goes in a cast and has no stress placed on it for six to eight weeks. At the end of the recovery period, the cast is removed and your arm or leg looks a shadow of its former self.
But with time, you’ll find that bone goes right back to normal. You’ll slowly apply gradually increasing levels of stress to that limb for it to come back to full function. However, too much too soon can see the recovery setback.
It’s the same when we’re experiencing stress. The key is recognising the distinction between good stress that helps you bounce back, and bad stress that sets your heart rate racing.
Ok, how do I do that?
Recognising the signs of high and low stress can be easily done if we pay attention to our language, and then to the physical signs of our reactions to those words. For the most part, stress is neither purely negative nor purely positive, so start by resisting using the word stress for only negative things.
An easy way to look at basic reframing is to label negative stress as exactly that – negative stress or distress. On the flip side, positive stress should be labelled correctly as eustress.
Making the distinction in our language reinforces our physical response to stressful situations, so figuring out your trigger words could go a long way to helping you achieve greater levels of resilience.
About the author
Michelle Cooper is a resilience expert and leading sportswoman who helps individuals and team develop resilience and harness stress to drive improved performance.
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