How To Turn Stress Into A Positive

When it comes to stress, it’s usually viewed as a bad thing, but what if you could turn stress into a positive?

If you’ve studied Hans Selye's General Adaptation Syndrome theory of stress, you know that the right amount of stress can enhance performance. This article will discuss the different levels of stress so that you can turn it into a positive force in your life.

What Is Stress?

When you are under intense stress, you experience a fight-or-flight response. Stress increases heart rate and a surge of hormones including cortisol and adrenaline. Meanwhile, your blood pressure rises and the liver releases glucose and fat into the blood stream to fuel activity. Stress activates the immune system and enhances physiological processes necessary to sustain life. At the same time, stress reduces processes geared toward growth and reproduction.

When stress is a limited experience and you have the time to recover from it, this physical response is both life-saving and beneficial. For instance, a recent finding is that when people experience the fight-or-flight response for a brief period of time, it can speed wound healing and fight infection.

You probably know that when you apply just the right amount of stress through training, you get stronger and faster. Your muscles and connective tissue grow bigger, and you end up leaner. On the other hand, when you don’t give your body the opportunity to recover from training stress, you may lose muscle, get weaker, and harm your physical performance.

The Three Levels Of Stress

One approach to understanding the amount of stress is to look at stress as falling into three categories:

  1. Good Stress: Just enough overload to trigger optimal performance and peak adaptations.
  2. Tolerable Stress: Allows for sufficient recovery for performance and general maintenance
  3. Toxic Stress: Excessive to the point where recovery is impaired, inflammation develops, and performance is diminished.

In assessing where you are on this continuum, be aware that stressors are coming from multiple directions. They can compound themselves in your life. All of the following are ways stress impacts our lives:

1) Genetic

Different genetic mutations impact your ability to metabolize different foods, leading to a stress response if you eat foods you aren’t able to process safely. For example, if you have celiac disease, you can’t safely metabolize gluten. If f you have the MTHFR mutation, your body can’t methylate or detoxify efficiently, putting you at increased disease risk.

2) Economic

Worry about finances is a major stressor, impairing sleep, impacting social relationships, and elevating cortisol.

3) Social

Whether it’s a fight with your spouse or that infuriating person online, the people you spend your time with have a significant impact on your level of stress and your ability to cope with it.

4) Religious/Ethical

Moral and religious dilemmas are an overlooked source of tension in our lives. Whether it’s Catholic guilt or the pressure of having to take action when your world is challenged, ethical issues can weigh on your mind.

5) Chemical

Chemical stressors from pesticides, plastic residues, and chemical scents contribute to the release of stress hormones. Even with a healthy, high-quality diet, it's important to take action to reduce your chemical toxic load.

6) Environment

Lack of sunlight in the winter, chronic noise, exposure to florescent lights, or pollutants in your environment all contribute to your overall load of stress.

7) Physical

We typically think of exercise as our main physical stress but factors such as temperature, ability to sleep, and even lack of physical activity impact your ability to recover from stress.

Final Words

When developing a training program, be sure to account for the multiple ways you are affected by stress. By mitigating “bad” stress and focusing on strategies that nurture your resilience, you can turn your stress into a positive. Prioritizing workout recovery is a great place to start. With these 50 recovery tips, you can develop a stress management program that meets your unique pain points.


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