Harnessing the Positive Power of Stress

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Whether you’re happily – or unhappily – employed or unemployed, one constant we all have to deal with is stress.

We’ve been told by those in the health professions that too much stress is not good for us, that it can lead to various ailments and actually harm our bodies. And we are constantly bombarded by advice in the media on how to reduce stress.

But author and business analyst Tony Schwartz says that stress, when handled the right way, is actually good for us. We need to confront stress, to get beyond our comfort zone and to make improvements in any aspect of our lives, whether it is physical or mental. Confronting stress makes us stronger, while constantly avoiding stress has the opposite effect.

In fact, what some argue is that you cannot really avoid stress – if you avoid big stressors, what happens is that the little things become more stressful to you. Schwartz says that stress isn’t the bad guy here. The problem is that we don’t allow ourselves enough time to recuperate after facing a stressful experience. We need to balance our stress with breaks. Too much stress can cause burnout, but too little stress leads us to become dull and apathetic.

The human body is a good example. By doing weight training, we subject our body to increased stress, and then we take a break. It is during this break period that the muscles recover, in fact, becoming stronger during the recovery period. This is known as overcompensation. But if we avoid any kind of physical activity, our muscles grow weaker and atrophy.

The same is true for our mind, Schwartz says. For example, by forcing ourselves to focus on a difficult task for a certain period of time, we are training our minds to concentrate, and we become better at it.

The problem for so many of us is that we seldom push ourselves to the point where we really tap our full potential, and conversely, few of us take the proper rest and recuperation, by eating right and getting enough sleep, for example. But by not forcing our minds out of their comfort zones, what we are left with is only a kind of shallowness, Schwartz says, nothing that yields real satisfaction, only a fleeting sense of pleasure.

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