Learn about the good stress

Anxious, worried, troubled were familiar words. But its synonym — stress was still new on the scene. Over time, I’ve got it. Stress is all of the above.

Stress is as subjective as sin: Time to analyse the word. As stated in earlier columns, stress is a condition, not the cause. It is a creature of the individual’s mental, emotional state of mind. You could liken stress to a sneeze. One sneeze does not necessarily make a cold. Or think of stress as a guitar. A guitar without strings is just a piece of wood. It certainly won’t make music without its strings. Unless you use it as a drum. Let’s drum some sense into stress. Fine-tuning is the solution for both guitar string set and stress. Together, the two create harmony for music and mental/emotional happiness respectively.

Speaking reflectively, remember Y2K? The twilight zone of the year 1999 was spent discussing, debating and grimly anticipating the next ­century: Y2K (2000 AD). Computers, the computer age, indeed the world itself, were supposed to crash. In retrospect, Y2K was a false alarm. An anti-climax as the prophets of doom were proved wrong back then. But today, it could appear to be a pilot project for the world just a little ahead of its time. The tsunami (2004), the financial and economic shocks to world markets (2008), were just forerunners to the near future.

That future is here. Ill winds and sick minds, now centrestaged, have aroused and angered Mother Nature. Father Time too is furious. The planet’s parents are upset with its wayward children: Covid and cyclones. Hurricanes in a hurry. The jury is still out on Covid. Bat-born in the market or lab? But the judgment from above is loud and clear. Collective man’s ways from the Industrial Revolution onwards have enraged its guardian. This globe and its gods have gone crazy. Acts of god that occurred occasionally have stepped up frequency in step with rising global tempo and temperature.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report has coined the term ‘Polycrisis’ — a cluster of related risks with compounding effects, such that the overall impact exceeds the sum of each part. Evidently, the language of stress generates a new term when old ones become obscure or inadequate. A catchword uttered often enough turns into a cliché. Here’s hoping ‘Polycrisis’ is a one-time phenomenon. And the above chain of circumstances is aborted. These events are above our individual control. But, at least our reactions to them can be contained. And to a great extent controlled.

Stress blocks energy, eustress makes it surge and flow. Eustress is a positive form of stress having a beneficial effect on health, motivation, ­performance and emotional ­well-being. The word was introduced by endocrinologist Hans Selye in 1976. And with this surge, this flow, ‘you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other. You know what you need to do is possible even though difficult; you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger,’ describes psychologist Mihali Csikszentmihalyi. Eustress comes like a balm from the blues of stress when the stressor is perceived as manageable, meaningful and desirable.

Eustress makes energy surge and flow. It is a positive form of stress having a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance and emotional well-being.

Work on the flow of your breath to relax your body. Take a nice deep breath and imagine it entering your heart and stomach. Then, exhale through your mouth to simulate a huge sigh of relief —
‘haa.’ Sometimes one to three times helps. And sometimes it takes longer. Perhaps 20 to 30 times. But deep breathing helps for sure. Just remember: adding an alphabet ‘R’ to panic makes breathing pranic — the eternal force and flow of life is yours to tap.

This is stress with a ‘yes’. ‘­Eustress is positive stress,’ states Dr Michael Genoverse. ‘…a product of nerves stimulated with a “fun challenge”. Eustress helps us stay motivated, work towards goals and feel good about life.’

The body’s fight-or-flight reaction is set in the subconscious from earlier evolution. Hence, eustress is the wind beneath our wings. ‘Eustress produces positive feelings of excitement, fulfillment, meaning satisfaction and well-being,’ says professional counsellor Casey Lee, MA.


Beyond boundaries

The benefits are bountiful. Emotionally, eustress fuels a positive sensation of contentment, inspiration, motivation and flow. Psychologically, eustress enhances our self-efficiency, autonomy and resilience. Physically, eustress enables harder physical work. And greater stamina for work-outs.

Let Ashton Eaton, decathlon legend (a sport spread over 10 track-and-field events) and two-time champion have the last word: ‘The challenge is more mental. Because it’s way harder to defend a title than to be an underdog. Because there’s more at stake to lose, more expectation from yourself… the satisfaction is not in winning or getting a medal. It’s like you can do this again.’

We have always said it is easier to attain than maintain. We often turn to sport to illustrate a point. Partly because it’s likened to a war without weapons. More importantly, it demands ­sustained physical and mental efforts for man’s higher-faster-longer endeavours.

As an earth-being, you already have the ‘liquidity,’ potential energy on tap. Over 70 per cent of your body is fluid. All it requires is the trigger — eustress, to convert potential into kicking kinetic energy and channel it to the required, relevant target. To illustrate: your boss sets you a new sales’ target. Or entrusts you with a new project. Eustress helps you leverage your existing strengths and skills. Or even better, enhance, enlarge your efforts towards meeting the new demand. (Incidentally, we are glad to hear our old deadline now described as timeline.) The new word (to us) itself is uplifting in place of the dreaded deadline which stressed much of our professional lives with its implied dread — so yesterday.

Please remember, eustress is a short-term solution. It requires constant and consistent efforts to enlarge its stamina and staying power. Eustress can also be a response or reply to different and divergent activities: Like starting, renewing a relationship, marrying, taking up a new job, etc. In short, you name it. Eustress could well be and have the answer.

To embrace eustress, or more correctly, have it embrace you, here are a few steps to follow: Learn something new every day, push yourself outside your comfort zone at work, play, etc, set new goals (personal and professional) that are challenging yet realistic. Track your progress and be accountable to yourself. Finally, exercise. Meanwhile, let’s celebrate. Stress is not the bogeyman we thought it to be. Time to boogie.

The writers are authors of Fitness for Life and Simply Spiritual – You Are Naturally Divine and teachers of the Fitness for Life programme


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