Stress to Success

Stress is bad, right?  At least that is what society and the media has been telling us all our lives. 

Well, what if I told you that some stress is good?  In fact, stress may even help you succeed.  That is where eustress comes into the picture.  

Eustress, or beneficial stress, is a term coined by the American Psychological Association.  This type of stress, “results from challenging, but attainable, enjoyable and worthwhile tasks.  It has a beneficial effect by generating a sense of fulfillment or achievement, while facilitating growth, development, and high levels of performance.”

So, how can eustress become effective?

A scientist from Berkeley sought to answer this question with extensive stress research and commentary.  She states, “moderate, short-lived stress can improve alertness and performance and boost memory.”   

To ensure that you are using eustress to your advantage, it starts with changing and shaping your perspective. She adds, “people who feel resilient and confident that they can manage stress are much less likely to be overwhelmed by it.”  If you feel that you have control over the situation that is stressing you out, the effects will be far less harmful. 

Despite these findings, the threat of chronic, negative stress still looms.  If you are not finding proper ways to relax after a stressful situation, you could be putting your physical and mental health at risk.  Prolonged periods of stress, even eustress, are never helpful, so a balancing act of sorts needs to take place. 

To learn ways to harness stress for success, I turned to three people that live their daily lives in a high-stress, competitive environment.  Sarah, Petra, and Paul are student athletes and employees at IMG Academy, a world-renowned sports academy located in Bradenton, Florida. Sarah and Petra play tennis and Paul has been a tennis coach for over 30 years at the academy.  All three had practical advice to share with me, regarding how they deal with stress.

Here are the lists with tips they came up with:

Screen Shot 2018-11-09 at 10.20.33 AM
Sarah Forsyth running drills before a match.

Sarah’s tips:

  1. Know that a stressful situation will always pass.  “If I am preparing for a match and I feel the extreme stress rise, I remind myself that the match will end, and the stress will go down.  Everything is temporary.”
  2. Use stress to win.  “When I am feeling those nerves while playing, I ride that high to help me run, hit, and react faster.  I give myself mental pep-talks to channel those nerves as well.”
  3. Do things that make you happy on the come-down. “Because this intense stress does not last, or it shouldn’t last if you are healthy, find things that make you happy once you are relaxed.  For example, after a match, I find my friends and we go to the cafeteria to hang out and eat good food.  It makes all the difference.”   

Petra’s tips: 

  1. Remember that everyone experiences stress. “Sometimes, I feel like I am the only one in my class or [tennis] group that is stressed-out.  After opening up to a few others, I realized that everyone feels the same.  We cannot compare our own situation to everyone else; we are all going through something.”   
  2. Get support. “Thankfully, at IMG there are plenty of resources to help us succeed.  I talk to a sports psychologist once a week as part of my training, and it helps so much.  Even talking to friends and family helps.”
  3. Exercise it away. “Since we are athletes, we get the advantage of exercise to burn off stress all the time.  We also have a gym on campus that is open all day.  I go there if I have time, to blow off steam.”


Sarah and Paul Forsyth playing a double’s match at IMG Academy.

Paul’s tips: 

  1. It’s all in the mindset. “The way students handle stress here varies greatly.  Some crumble under the pressure, especially without support.  This is because they are thinking negatively about their situation.  The kids that work on their confidence and positivity are the ones that conquer stress and use it to win and grow, no matter the situation.”
  2. Develop a routine.  “When you are a student, your schedule is kind of made for you.  School in the morning, practice in the afternoon or vice versa.  But creating a routine for your downtime can also be beneficial.  What you do behind the scenes when no one is watching determines your level of success.  Routine is known to help the brain adapt and find levels of comfort, especially in high-stress environments.”
  3. Never let stress define you. “It is easy to get caught up in a stressful situation and let that stress define you as a person.  Never let the stress get you down.  Stress could mean that you care about something just enough to keep going.”   

It is safe to say these athletes are harnessing the power of eustress to succeed in their sport.  Their situation may be unique, but their advice is universal.

The overarching goal is to maintain a balance, and recognize when stress becomes distress.  It may be a long journey, but it is worth it in the end.  Not to mention much easier than attempting to cut every stressful thing out of our lives!

How do you handle stress in your life?  Leave a comment or share this article and let’s keep the eustress conversation going.




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