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Are you sick of being stressed out, and possibly even unsure why you are stressed?
Or, you know why you’re stressed but you feel so trapped, paralyzed even, that you don’t know how to get out from under it?
If so, you may learn a thing or two if you keep reading. Because, believe it or not; we need stress! Not so much stress that it paralyzes us from doing anything, but enough to help us change when we need it.
But, before I get into how to use your stress to your advantage,3 let me answer a few questions you may have about stress.
What is Stress?
The definition of stress, according to my intro to psychology textbook from college (yes, I still have my college textbooks), is “the negative emotional and physiological process that occurs as individuals try to adjust to or deal with stressors.” (Bernstein & Nash, 2008) And stressors are all of those things in life that cause us stress or causes us to make a change.
(So, basically, stress is how you feel when you have to deal with something in life that challenges you or changes up your daily routine, along with what goes on in your body when these things occur. Ever hear of the fight or flight response?)
And, yes, change isn’t easy, that’s why we’re stressed!
But, honestly, if you were never once stressed in your life; where would you be? It’s very possibly that you wouldn’t even be alive. So, be thankful that stress exists and take advantage of it before it takes advantage of you!
Too busy to read the rest? Pin it for later and get the Step by Step action plan to use your stress to your advantage.
Why Do I Need Stress, Can’t I Just Get Rid of ALL My Stress?
See, you need stress to help you function as a human being, every living thing goes through stress. Even plants go through stress to help them grow; a different type of stress than what you’re probably used to, but still stress.
Think of a newborn baby, if they didn’t have any stress then they wouldn’t cry. If they didn’t cry then we wouldn’t know that they needed something. Sure, we all know newborn babies have a few essential needs; like to be fed, changed, burped, help getting to sleep, and to be loved and cared for. But, when they cry it helps us know when they need these things and how often.
Now, you’re probably thinking; well, I’m not a newborn baby, I’ve passed that stage in my life. Can’t I just have no stress now?
The answer is still no.
Sorry to burst your bubble. But, why do you think you pay your bills, or eat, or work, or even get dressed in the morning? It’s because of stress. Stress that you could lose a roof over your head, become nutrient deficient, not be able to put food on the table, or even be ridiculed or made fun of because of the way you look or smell.
So, yes. You need stress in every single day of your life to live a functional and possibly even meaningful life! Whether you like it or not!
What Stresses Us Out, And How We Deal With It, Makes Us Better
Now that you know that you need stress in your life to survive, let’s see how stress can make our lives better!
There are many different stressors that we have to deal with in life. Many can be good, but others aren’t. For example, getting married, having a baby, or moving into a nicer place are all stressors; but they’re good stressors. Unlike going further in debt, getting hurt, or losing your job.
Our lives are full of stress. We need stress in our lives. If we didn’t have stress then there wouldn’t be much motivation helping us stay alive. Our bodies show signs of stress when we’re hungry, when we’re thirsty, when we’re tired, when we have deadlines to meet and for many other reasons (this is the physiological side of the definition; it usually involves the hormone cortisol).
Stress is what drives us to succeed; to reach for our goals. Or for that matter; have goals. They are the reason we live.
Now, let’s get into the 5 ways to use that everyday stress to alleviate some stress, so we don’t burn out from it all.
1. Have a Deadline
Stress, as you can easily see, makes us change when it’s needed and helps us accomplish things. Let’s take a wedding for example. Usually, when you get engaged you set a date for your wedding, so you can have a wonderful day and say your ‘I do’s’ and have your happily ever after(aka less stress). Well, setting the date for the wedding creates stress. And, in turn, that stress ensures that the wedding takes place when it should. Without setting the date, the wedding just won’t happen. No stress = no special day.
If you want proof of that, I’ll tell you my story.
My husband and I were engaged for 5 years before we finally got married. Not because we wanted to wait or had to wait that long. We just never set a date, at least not until just a few months before the date we set. Setting a date for our wedding a few months before it was going to happen was, of course, stressful. But, this stress got our butt’s into high gear and working on planning our wedding and getting everything ready for it.
It took us 5 whole years to get married when an engagement only usually lasts 6 to 12 months. This was all due to the fact that we never set a date!!
(Honestly, my husband did most the planning and getting things ready for our wedding. I really only had to worry about picking the perfect dress, how I was going to wear my hair, and what the ‘normal’ side of the wedding cake should look like. He’s pretty awesome like that!)
2. Challenge Yourself
This is exactly what it sounds like. Challenging yourself can create some extra productive stress.
How fast can you do the dishes, or write a 1,000 words?
How organized can you make your home to avoid the stress of constantly searching for your phone or car keys?
Yes, even organizing can cause a little stress, but it’s helpful stress. Unless, you’re trying to organize and you’re children are bugging you every 5 seconds to ‘look at what they did’. And, of course, what they did was mess up everything you organized 5 minutes ago; then it’s simply frustrating and you might as well wait til they go to bed to try to organize, again….
This technique works really well, though, for many aspects of your life. If your goal is to be the healthiest or fittest you’ve ever been; there’s tons of ways to challenge yourself to become fit. How many push ups or sit ups can you do? Can you do 5 pull ups? (I know I can’t right now, but I can do bridges with my toddler sitting on me!) Can you lift more than you could last week? Run farther? Faster?
What I’m trying to say is that you can stop procrastinating and get whatever you need done; done the best you can. Challenge yourself to see how well, or fast, you can do something. Make a game out of it and have some fun! That stress you felt before will turn into motivation, instead!
3. Make Your Everyday Tasks Feel Important
Have you ever felt stressed, not because the task you’re working at is difficult, but because it’s boring? This is tough because no one likes repetitive tasks, or completing tasks they feel aren’t important.
Do you hate doing the dishes, or cleaning up after others in your home? But, you happen to be the stay at home parent, or the responsible parent; so, you feel that it’s your job to keep the home in order?
These tasks can be daunting, and soo boring. They don’t take much effort or brain power, but you dread doing them…day, after day, after day.
I get it. I really do, I hate doing dishes and I live in a home without a dishwasher. So, I truly understand how annoying these little tasks can be. But, they have to get done. And, if you don’t do them then who will?
My guess is that they just won’t get done.
Now, what will happen if they don’t get done? Sure, no one will die. Well, not at first. But, in a few days all of the dishes you own will be dirty, there will be toys sprawled all through out the house and crumbs every where from no one sweeping. Basically, the house will be trashed. Yikes!! (I haven’t even mentioned the worst case scenario; that’s the best case scenario!)
If that’s what would happen in a few days, I would hate to think of what would happen in a week, or a month. So, you better believe that those little tasks you do everyday to keep your home in order and functioning are important. Even if others in the home think they can get away without doing them, you know they are important and they must get done…every single day.
The best you can do is complete the tasks yourself and encourage others in your home to help out.
4. Take 10 Minutes to Make a Change
Is there something that you can do about a stressor in your life?
A bill you can’t pay on time?
Or, maybe paperwork that needs to be completed before your next doctors visit or before your child goes into school next week?
Whatever it is, just take 10 minutes and see how much you can get done. Call up the companies that bill you; see if you can get an extension, or lower your rates. (Some companies have retention departments to help customers get lower rates instead of losing the customer to another provider.)
(If you need more help taking control of your finances, check out How to Budget (When You Have No Money))
Or, take those 10 minutes to actually fill out the paperwork. Believe me, it’s much more satisfying when you do. Stressing over paperwork for ten minutes sure beats stressing over it for days on end because you simply don’t want to do it.
5. Reward Yourself
The feeling when a stressor in your life is gone, because you finally filled out that paperwork or it’s the day of your wedding that you’ve been stressing over for months, may even be reward enough. It feels so good when you know you completed something that had been weighing on you for sooo long!
But, if that’s not enough, go ahead and reward yourself for a job well done. Whether you go shopping with the money you earned from working hard on a side job; or simply get yourself a coffee after acing an exam…or finally getting your child down for a nap! You deserve it!!
And, the way to use stress to your advantage this way, is to know what you’re going to reward yourself with. Make the end goal be what gives you the stress, or the motivation, to achieve what you’re trying to accomplish.
See, so deadlines are a gift to have. If you don’t have a deadline, then what’s the purpose? So, next time you have a deadline at work or for anything else; think of that!
Or, if you work at home or for yourself, create deadlines for yourself to help you get things done faster. Use an agenda or planner; they seriously help. I would be completely lost without my planner. It may even help reduce your procrastination.
Although, stress can be part of a balanced life, don’t stress yourself out so much that you become sick or burn out. Too much stress is absolutely no fun and can actually make you physically sick; it’s all about balance. These 5 ways to use stress to your advantage can only be beneficial to you if you take into consideration what is realistic to get done in the amount of time provided.
For example, don’t create unrealistic deadlines that drive you insane and cause you to lose sleep or not eat because you want to meet that deadline. Be realistic!
When challenging yourself, don’t make the challenge too difficult. Setting big goals can certainly be a great thing to do. But, if something comes up and you’re not able to reach your goal, or do as well as you had wished; don’t be so hard on yourself. We’re all a work in progress, and human. Don’t be upset by it.
If you’re trying to get everyday tasks done and are trying to make them feel important; it doesn’t mean that other things in life are less important. It’s much more important to help your child with schoolwork, than say, to finish the dishes before dinner.
When taking 10 minutes to make a change, make it something realistic. Don’t expect to earn $100 to pay towards a bill in 10 minutes. There’s a very good chance that’s not going to happen.
If rewarding yourself for a job well done, don’t go overboard. Spend within your means if spending, and try not to create more stress for yourself. Remember, it’s a reward, it’s not required, and it certainly does not have to cost money.
My challenge for you, now that you have read this, is to take one of the ways I described above and take advantage of your own every day stress. If it works, then try another way and so on.
Then, share this article with your friends and family so they can take advantage of these 5 Ways to Use Your Stress to Your Advantage, too!!
Or, if you want a printable with a step by step action plan to use stress to your advantage, click here.
Bernstein, D. A. & Nash, P. W. (2008). Essentials of Psychology, Fourth Edition, 392.