The Super-power Of Stress

Drum English|2 July 2020

The Super-power Of Stress
Anxiety isn’t all bad. Here’s how to use those challenging moments to your advantage
Kim Arendse

Stress has always had a bad rap. And no wonder – it’s often accompanied by feelings of being overwhelmed, irritation and exhaustion, and it’s often linked to disturbing events that are happening in our lives.

But more and more, experts are saying moderate amounts of stress can have powerful benefits.

Temporary boosts of stress have scientifically been associated with increased motivation, memory, productivity and overall optimism.

“It’s true that how people usually respond to stress leads to them being ineffective in stressful moments, intensifying the stress and leaving them feeling depleted,” says Lauren Moss, a counselling psychologist from Sandton.

“But think of how stress motivates a student before an assignment or exam. It’s stress that pushes them to prioritise studying over other more enjoyable activities. Athletes also use stress to be more disciplined in their training and lifestyle choices.”

So instead of thinking of stress (particularly when it’s unavoidable) as something to overcome, think of it as a tool to build skills such as adaptability. “Stress is a given in daily life and moderate levels of stress can have an inoculating function, which leads to higher resilience when we are faced with new difficulties,” says Lisa Damour, a US-based psychologist and author of Under Pressure.

Here’s how stress can be an advantage and how to tap into its power.

IT INSPIRES MOTIVATION

“Stress can sharpen our focus and create the pressure we need to reach deadlines and attain a certain standard in various areas of our lives,” Moss says.

But, she warns, for stress to be used effectively, it shouldn’t be constant.

“It is meant to come in seasons. Stress may build as you reach a deadline but after, there should be a period where you can rest and recuperate.

“When we don’t have any rest from our stress, like the relentless stress of modern life, we become depleted, which makes us less efficient.”

IT IMPROVES DECISION-MAKING

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2 July 2020