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Moving From Bad Stress to Good Stress

faith lifestyle mental health mindset personal growth relationships resilience stress management May 08, 2024

Stress. We all feel it. It's one of the great unifiers, an inevitable experience for all humans at different points in time. That pressure, that tension, that sense of being weighed down. "I'm sooooo stressed," we say. And we usually mean it in a bad way.

But what if I told you that stress isn't always bad? In fact, the right kind of stress, in the right amount, is actually good for you. It activates your system, helps you rise to challenges, pushes you to grow and get stronger.

The problem comes when we have too much stress, the wrong kind of stress, or we don't have the support and skills to cope with the stress in our lives. That's when stress crosses the line from positive to negative, from challenge to crisis.

So how can you tell the difference between good stress and bad stress? And more importantly, what can you do to reduce and manage the bad stress in your life?

First, it's important to understand what causes bad stress. Things like:

  • Isolation and lack of supportive relationships
  • Feeling out of control or dominated by others
  • Unrealistically high expectations and perfectionism
  • Not being able to use your talents and skills
  • Unhealthy lifestyle habits

In contrast, good stress comes from being challenged to grow, but with the relationships, autonomy, and capabilities to meet those challenges successfully.

One helpful framework is to think of stress like weights—in the right amount, lifting weights makes you stronger. But you'll collapse under the strain if the weight is too heavy. The key is finding the optimal level of positive stress that stretches you without breaking you.

So if you're feeling overstressed, here are some steps you can take:

1. Prioritize supportive relationships. You were never meant to handle life alone. Reach out and connect.

2. Add structure to your life. Have regular routines that anchor your days and weeks. Know your priorities and put boundaries around them.

3. Watch your thinking. Don't fall into patterns of perfectionism, pessimism, or catastrophizing. Be curious and focus on growth.

4. Look at your lifestyle. Make time for exercise, sleep, hobbies, and time with friends. Don't let your life get lopsided.

5. Build your skills. If certain situations stress you out, work on getting better at handling them. Competence breeds confidence.

6. Practice letting go. Mindfulness, prayer, or just mentally handing your worries over to God or your higher power can provide powerful relief.

Here's an exercise to try: at the end of each day this week, write down the stresses you encountered. Then categorize them—which were positive stresses that challenged you in a good way? Which were negative stresses that felt overwhelming or demoralizing?

For the positive ones, acknowledge yourself for rising to the challenge. For the negative ones, brainstorm baby steps you could take to reduce or better cope with that stress. Could you reach out to a friend? Set a boundary? Shift your perspective?

Remember, stress is an inevitable part of life. We can't avoid it, but we can get better at handling it. With the right support, skills, and mindset, you can transform your relationship with stress and use it as a catalyst for growth. You've got this.

Get Dr. Cloud's free guide on how to deal with the toxic people in your life. 

Dr. Cloud can help you live the life you were meant to live!