Stress can be good for you

Stress is good, but so is recovery Photo: David Clode on Unsplash
Stress can be as good as the recovery from it Photo: David Clode on Unsplash

Up to a point

Stress can be good for you, it’s true. That’s how evolution and nature work. Evolution puts certain species under some stress factors, and consequently, these species adapt to the stress conditions and survive. People refer to this as ‘survival of the fittest,’ we’ll call it adaptation

Nietzsche said: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” he should know, his body and soul suffered physical and mental stress for most of his life. In a sense, he was right up to a point. 

There always is a breaking point we should be looking for, tipping often precedes breaking, so it should be possible to distinguish. Before someone kills me, let me put this post in the proper context. When I say stress can be good for you, I don’t mean that either in the evolutionary or the Nietzchean sense. I mean it in terms of our growth mindset.


The way stress assists our growth

If you have read this blog for a while now, you know I am all into a growth mindset, learning orientation, or  better living and performing. Basically that we all become better human beings. Of course, as with everything in this blog – that’s easier said than done. But this is an important point. 
If we want to grow in any sense, we need to get comfortable with getting uncomfortable. As Etienne Decroux said about his Statuaire Mobile and corporal mime (dramatic movement on stage originally with no facial expression, costumes, text, lights, etc.), “We have to install ourselves in the unstable.” This means that the body has to get out of balance for the movement to have a real dramatic expression.

Evolution and Legacy

These words by Etienne Decroux have been my first spiritual performance teachings. No wonder I went into circus later in my career. The foundation was there. Circus provided more stress and more opportunities to grow. 

In his brilliant book “Training essentials for Ultrarunning,” Jason Koop says: “Physical adaptation to training is Darwinian in nature. Training should be difficult because you need to impose enough stress in order to adapt.” 

But what exactly is “enough stress”? That’s the critical question here.

A delicate balance


To impose enough stress, we need to know what we are capable of at the starting point. Given where we want to grow to or be in a certain amount of time and given of our limitations, we need to gradually and slowly increase the stress to create progress.

The level of stress, as you may understand, is a very individual parameter; it varies, with our genetic disposition, age, general health conditions, internal and external environments, mental, physical, and emotional. Not that these conditions are so distinguishable, they are, as a matter of fact, closely interrelated

So our emotional, physical, and mental conditions matter greatly in our ability to adapt and grow with the stress surrounding us. If we can control these aspects of our nature concerning the curve balls life throws, we are better inclined to grow, evolve, and adapt.

Like in the circus, it’s a delicate balance between the different aspects of our being, propelling us further.

Make a stress list


Phil Maffetone, another great sports physiologist and coach, argues that reducing stress in other aspects of our lives contributes to our capacity to adapt to physical training. He suggests making a stress list and gradually but systematically starts eliminating it. 

He suggests we are subject to three main kinds of stress in our lives:

– Physical stress is caused by physical aspects of our lives, training, disease, or other physical conditions and constraints 

– Biochemical Stress is caused mainly by environmental pollution.

– Mental and Emotional stress includes tension, anxiety, or depression.

Making a list of these stressors in your life and eliminating them one by one will enable you to concentrate better on your goals and objectives on your path of personal evolution.

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