At some point in our lives, we all encounter various levels of stress, whether it's a small "bump in the road" or constant, chronic stress.
The notion of "stress" usually gets a bad rap—we see it as universally bad and something to avoid—however, there is such a thing as positive stress, called "eustress," and it is essential to exercising properly.
Exploring both sides can have a positive effect on your ability to train and achieve your desired gains.
What Is Eustress?
Feelings of stress are often equated with negativity, but from a biochemical perspective, your body doesn't just experience stress when you're upset, hurt, or in danger, excitement is also a form of "stress" on your body.
When you're facing a challenge that's fun or one that you're looking forward to, you'll be experiencing eustress. And even if you're unaware of it, eustress is still immensely important for your daily functions. It's the feeling that drives short-term happiness and bursts of motivation that allow you to complete smaller tasks that lead to the fulfillment of larger, long-term goals.
Learning to moderate the negative stress, or distress, in favor of healthy eustress is crucial to achieving your fitness and bodybuilding goals.
Why Is Eustress Good for You?
There are countless different approaches to training and reaching new strength and fitness levels, but there's one fundamental truth they all have in common: If you're staying within your comfort zone, you're probably not making progress. Living and working outside your comfort zone is how you move forward along with that feeling of productive discomfort.
Be warned, it can be easy to go too far, become overwhelmed, and even injure yourself by overtraining and entering the zone of distress. Pay attention to what your body is telling you and strive to stay in that positive eustress zone.
How Does Eustress Promote Growth?
Eustress can give you the power you need for growth in three crucial areas:
- Emotional growth: From an emotional standpoint, eustress can give feelings of motivation, inspiration, and general contentment.
- Psychological growth: In terms of general psychology, eustress constantly builds our resilience, autonomy, and self-efficacy.
- Muscle growth: Workouts that are challenging and compelling, but do not push you beyond your breaking point, allow sustainable progress toward your fitness goals.
In terms of weightlifting, choosing the right weight that pushes your limit without going beyond your abilities allows you to train more consistently and encourages muscle growth, increased stamina, and strength.
If you're an avid runner, you've probably experienced the positive sides of stress without even noticing it. How many times have you started jamming out to your favorite tunes while running, zoned out, and had an intense workout? Chances are you didn't even notice how exhausted you were until afterward. You stressed out your body, but you weren't feeling pain, negative thoughts, or discomfort because you were in a state of eustress and not distress.
Luckily, you can harness that power and try to bring your mind and body into an alignment that allows this positive form of stress to do its thing.
Focus Your Stress
You've likely heard the phrase "stay calm" more times than you can count. Staying calm is easier said than done, but it's necessary if you want stress to work for you and not against you while you exercise.
How to breathe properly is one of the first things you learn when working out, and you need to pay extra attention to your breathing when starting a eustress-based workout. Crucially, you should try to breathe only through your nose and keep it controlled and slow. This will stop you from panicked, shallow breathing and help anchor your mind in the present.
Don't try to avoid the feeling of discomfort—it's inevitable during a workout, and you should acknowledge it and embrace it. Trying to avoid it only causes distress.
Constantly fill your thoughts with positive self-talk. At all times, keep reminding yourself that you have absolutely "got this." If the exercise is more difficult than expected, this will be more effective than cursing or calling yourself names.
Eustress workouts aren't about learning new exercises, they're about creating a positive mindset and emotional state for your own workout routine. And remember—if it's making you miserable, it's just not working.