Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

Stress gets a bad rap. Stress makes you fat, ruins your skin, is bad for your heart. We all just need to relax.

I admit, there are moments when all I want to do is curl up in a ball and cry (a great stress reliever) or yell at anyone who dares to cross my path (a not-so-nice outlet for stress). Stress can be bad.

But…stress can be good for you if you just learn to use it properly.

Stress is a biological reaction in the body left over from our caveman (and cave woman) days. When the saber tooth tigers were headed right for us, that stress kicked in and helped us put our bodies and minds in high gear to escape danger. Given that the level of speech function we had back then precluded a lot of couch time, fight or flight stress reactions saved lives.

In modern society, stress is ignored or internalized. Our stresses don’t come in the form of saber tooth tigers that cannot be missed but in the form of a list of to-dos that never seem to quit. Instead of reacting with a fight (knocking some things off the list) or flight (learning to say no) reaction, we smoke more, drink more, and pile more stuff to eat – and to do – on our plates.

But stress can still work for us. It is still a dump of adrenaline into our bodies that gives extra energy and sharpens our minds for rapid decision making and processing. We just have to learn how to put stress to work for us in the modern world, and that takes learning how to recognize the modern saber tooth tiger when he’s about to pounce and putting that spurt of energy to good use.

It requires two things: using the stress to motivate you, and then burning off the adrenaline dump with some exercise.

I credit stress with helping me achieve my goals: finishing my undergrad degree in economics at a prestigious university while raising five kids; finishing my master’s degree in English literature while building a business (while raising five kids); five cross-country moves with toddlers and teens in tow each time and still having kids who think I’m an ok mom.

Sure, there are moments when stress feels overwhelming. I mean, I’m on my fifth trip through the teenage years, have a three-generation household, a kid leaving for college, and a toddler in my house who thinks screaming at the top of her lungs is great entertainment. That alone makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry┬ádrink a bottle of wine every once in a while. But I have found that by paying better attention to my body, I can funnel the energy that comes from stress into motivation. It’s not easy; in fact, it takes a lot of practice. You still have to be smart and realize that you have to have balance (which means getting up, walking away from the stress, and exercising).

Image via Gratisography, the very best free images on the web, by Ryan McGuire, my favorite photographer on the planet.