Stress is something of a minefield, even the word itself is scary – something to be avoided at all costs and often seen as a very negative phenomenon.

But what exactly is our understanding of stress?

Stress is natural, we cannot, really effectively, turn it on and off at will, it just creeps up on us and acts, often as an inhibitor and sometimes as a complete debilitator – stress can, and does have powerful effects.

Stress is so natural that it has served to ‘motivate’ humans to get out of danger, run faster, jump higher and escape threats to our very existence, but it appears to have come full-circle, acting as something that stops us performing to our maximum potential.

Now that is strange – something designed by nature to help us perform better, actually impairs performance in many cases.

I think we need to make a clear distinction between, what we can call, good stress and bad stress, or more aptly, controlled and unmanaged stress.

Managed stress is what we call energy – this helps performance, motivates and creates impulses that launch us forward to new heights and stretches our limits – it is exciting and invigorating when channelled well, helping professionals and athletes excel in their field[sic].

Unmanaged stress is the bad stress that brings on fear and panic, uncertainty and lack of confidence, the thing that changes us from intelligent, coherent communicators to sweaty-palmed, short-of-breath, jibbering wrecks in front of an audience during a presentation (most of us have already been there).

Now, the curious thing is that unmanaged stress can actually be a good thing as long as we can recognise it and act upon it. It destabilises and brings about feelings of being unsure – we are in uncharted waters here and these are exactly the places that we don’t always want to be. Moving out of our comfort zone, call it what you like, but when we are going through this we don’t feel, well, err, comfortable.

That may seem like a bad thing, but hold on a minute, isn’t this the state that produces the best and most productive learning? When we are slightly (or more) uncomfortable, we are more open to change – well, perhaps not more open, but at least willing to try and experiment. In the comfort zone, there is no real pulsion, need nor desire to change – why fix it if it isn’t broken? If we are uncomfortable we will move and take action – change seems more of an option than a threat in these circumstances.

The thing is, that this is something that we see in retrospect – we can’t just pick and choose our stress levels, although we can learn to manage them. When we are going through a stressful situation – that is a bad-stress period – the process is not pleasant and not one that we would wish to repeat too often.

However, the end result can be very constructive, although most reflection is often tinged with more nostalgia that objective observation.

If you need to be in situations where you become overly stressed then you need to learn to manage and channel this stress in to positive energy – this is what we call enthusiasm and passion, but this takes preparation. Preparation is something that we cannot, and must not under-estimate, preparation for an event is what produces self-confidence, which in turn is shrouded by positive energy.

Now, I can’t give a universal panacea for stress control, everyone has techniques, exercises, meditation etc., that works for them – and it needs to be worked, practiced and played with.

Being aware of what stresses us and the effects it can have on others or on the image that we project is already half-way to learning to manage it to our own advantages, but this is just where the long road and hard work starts.

Find what works for you, practice, practice, practice and turn the things that are destroying your credibility and in some ways ruining your life, into energy that is used to communicate your enthusiasm and passion – ultimately, you will be able to Just Do It! (and enjoy it) …

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