We all experience it. Sometimes, we can use it to our advantage. But more often it is a disease, rotting our insides. Is there a treatment for stress? A vaccine or a cure? Let’s look at performance, relationships, and sleep. Each is affected by stress in a different way, and each has a variety of useful and useless responses.
Performance stress drives us to deliver our best. We push ourselves out of pride and fear, desperately wanting to deliver the best outcome and frightened of failing. We use stress to work harder, to show up early and leave late, to double check our work, and go the extra mile to get the job done. We use stress to train harder, to lift more weights, ride more miles, hit the gym with more vigor, and enjoy the pain of exertion. Yet the fear of failing ourselves or others raises our blood pressure to unhealthy levels. It causes us to do unhealthy things to hit unrealistic marks and to miss our targets due to performance anxiety.
Relationship stress makes us work harder at being better spouses, parents, and friends. We struggle to maintain our multitude of friendships, sometimes at the expense of work responsibilities. We try hard to be great lovers. We add worry where bliss should be and arguments where conversation should take place. Jealousy enters our minds, when welcoming would be more effective.
Sleep more than seven hours? We all know that sleep is extremely healthy and restorative. Yet life’s stresses interfere, whether in the form of bad dreams or bad habits. Too much alcohol, too little water, excessive caffeine, and outside forces disrupt the best of relaxing plans. All conspire to disturb that most effective of all health remedies. And then, of course, we stress about not getting enough sleep.
What is the common thread here? Everyone’s life is inconsistent. Some days are better than others, for a dozen reasons. Our relationships have ups and downs. We have hot streaks in our work, but they don’t last forever. Stress is how we experience these erratic outside forces and internal thoughts.
Stress is a force worth harnessing: It is a ubiquitous, omnipresent energy flowing through the ether—as are love, tranquility, anger, and a host of other human emotions. But stress is one of the few such forces that we can train for, teach our children about, and modify at every stage of life. Watch the athletes who “center down” before a big match. Study the exceptional public speakers who use presentation tools to calm their voice and deliver their message. Talk to military commanders who lead their soldiers into battle. When the chips are down, certain people rise to the challenge. They do so by taking stock of the situation and organizing their responses.
Stress is not a disease that requires a treatment, a vaccine, or a cure. It is a tool that most of us have yet to master. Yet practice sessions are infrequently attended. Want to stop playing hooky?