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The Importance of Stress

Stress affects all walks of life in different ways, and most people view it as having a negative impact on everything it touches. But stress is a necessary component to success at work, at home, and eve on the playing field. The important factors are how much stress you are under, what kind of stress it is, and how much stress you can respond to.

What is Stress?

Stress can be described as an imbalance between demand and response capability, under conditions that have consequences when you fail to meet the demand. Distress is a stress we view negatively, and results in anxiety. Eustress is a positive stress that simply increases our drive to accomplish something. Both distress and eustress cause arousal, which we can just view as how active our brain is. Arousal exists on a continuum from deep sleep to extreme excitement.

Performance under Stress

Now that we know what stress is, and the different components that make up stress, we can begin to understand how to best step up and meet the demand of whatever stress we are under. One of the first things we can do is try to convert distress to eustress. Distress is what causes anxiety; it can cause us to break down emotionally and physically. Distress can often cause a decrease in performance because we play scared, we begin to play not to lose and become too passive. We become too passive in life and miss opportunities we should jump at, and we become too passive on the field and think too much, slowing us down and ultimately decreasing our performance. The only real difference between eustress and distress is our perception of it, meaning one way we can greatly increase the chances of our success is purely by looking at stress from different angles. Each stress is an opportunity to succeed.

Another major key in performing under stress is understanding your skill and applying the correct amount of stress for your experience. The more skill you have at something, the more stress you can handle. This is professional sports teams love having older players on their roster. They have been to the highest peaks of their craft and can help players balance out how much stress is needed to succeed. A true performance state creates just enough arousal to increase excitement, but not so much that we feel nerves or jitters. You can think of this similarly to how caffeine affects your own body. The right amount makes you feel great, high energy and focused. Too much makes you feel like your heart is pounding out of your chest and your brain is spinning at a thousand miles per hour. Too little caffeine and you feel nothing. The right amount of arousal to complete the task at hand is crucial, and the more experienced you are in a skill, the more arousal you can handle.

Motivation will also play a role in handling your stress and ties into balancing distress and eustress. If you lack motivation to do something, why would you try to balance the stress or completing a certain task? Let us look at division 1 athletics. Division 1 sports are essentially a full-time job along with attending classes, there really is not a lot of time to socialize outside of your sport. Your schedule could be packed with workouts, film sessions, classes, and study halls. Some people are cut out for it, some are not. If you lack motivation to play division 1 sports, yet you sign with a college and try it anyways, you are almost destined to fail. You likely will not find the motivation to cope with the stress you will be put under. Much of this stress will be distress, causing anxiety and eventually leading to burnout. Make sure you have the motivation to handle the stress associated with each given situation.

Chris Still

BS Exercise Science


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