Stress, as they say, takes years off our lives. Supposedly, it damages backs, overworks hearts, and prematurely turns hair grey. When we become stressed, we may also become unpleasant and lash out at others. It’s an overall uncomfortable feeling, being stressed. But stress can also be a great motivator.
Stress is a metaphorical two-way street. If we let it define us and affect us, it can be crushing and debilitating. At its worst, we are unable to focus on anything else until we alleviate some of the stress. But at the same time, we need a little pressure in our lives or we will begin to stagnate. A small amount of stress can be this good pressure, pushing us—hopefully easily—towards accomplishing a goal. How does this work? Imagine feeling overwhelmed by a school project. You could either a) allow yourself to be overwhelmed completely and collapse under pressure, or b) compartmentalize the project out to a manageable level and complete a worthy submission. Nearly everyone has experienced a similar situation--to one result or the other.
I’m a firm believer in the mentality that if we are experiencing stress about something, it means we care. Whether this care is worthwhile and spent towards something meaningful may be a different question. Stressing about a big exam may be worthwhile because we care about something important; likewise, worrying about a baseball game may not be as crucial. It comes down to priorities. Consider, in another context, we use stress for emphasis, i.e. “I can’t stress this enough…” Truly, then, a legitimate stress should be saved for something actually important.
Another important consideration is whether or not the object of our stress is within our control. I’ll be the first to admit, I have felt high amounts of anxiety watching a Tigers game. This is stupid because the game is far out of my control. Stressing about the aforementioned big exam may be valid, therefore, depending on the amount of proper studying. Preparing for the test allows you to exercise some amount of control over the situation.
How we respond to stress is just as important as how we react to the failure of giving into it. Suppose the thought of that exam was so mind-numbing to us that we gave in to the pressure and did not study. Rather than confront the stress, we failed to prepare for it, thus avoiding it altogether. Then, as expected, we failed the test. What then? After such a traumatic experience, it would be better to turn that stress into a learning experience and know how to react to it the next chance we get.
I don’t think the correct answer is to completely quell stress altogether. As I said, stress under the right situation can inspire us and lead us to some great things. Instead, we should use stress as a resource. To me, it is akin to the concept of working better under a deadline. And little stresses early in life can make a person better prepared to deal with bigger ones later on. As difficult as that may seem--and it is easier said than done--treating stress as a motivator rather than a deterrent can lead to a more enjoyable lifestyle.