The Mindful Life™ Blog

The Benefits of Stress

There’s a photo out there from last summer of me in the starting area before a big mountain bike race. Standard starting corral – beautiful backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, lots of pencil thin, incredibly well conditioned riders, and then me. And perhaps the picture would have been fairly unremarkable except for one thing – I was flipping off the cameraman (sorry, Kenny).

You see, I was freaking out.  Despite all my training, I was minutes away from a 3+ hour suffer-fest, and I was losing it. My prefrontal cortex checked out, and my amygdala was in full control. I was convincing myself I was unprepared, didn’t belong, and no chance-in-you-know-what could I complete this race. I wanted out!  Stress had taken over, and I was letting it rule the moment.

We see this all the time in ourselves and our kids. We are edgy before a big presentation or sales meeting, or our kids are snarky before exams and feel “sick” the day of the pacer test.

So what can we do when this bad stress starts to dominate our feelings and experiences? Sure deep breathing can be helpful, but my number 1 tip to help flip the switch from bad stress to good stress is to do what might seem counter-intuitive: Embrace every bit of it.

Moments before the bike race I couldn’t ignore the stress that was crackling down on my brain and my body – there was no bubble I could put up around me to protect me. So I let the stress in, and I reframed it. I acknowledged that the stress was there, that my heart was pounding fast and I recognized that this was my brain telling my body something. The key was to figure out what it was that it was telling me.

Deep down, it wasn’t a fear of the suffer-fest, or the other riders. I had ridden this course dozens of time, so I knew I could handle it. And I wasn’t in it to win – I was in it to fulfill my Misogi (click the video to learn more about Misogis).  My brain was telling my body that I was excited. And as I let this thought sink in I was able to reframe my entire outlook on what lay ahead – a way to challenge myself, to test my mental and physical strength, to enjoy the beauty of my hometown mountains and the camaraderie of other racers.

And after 3 hours and 15 minutes, long after I had put that middle finger back onto the handle bars, I sat there dirty, sweaty, thirsty and proud. I had stepped out of my comfort zone, I had pushed myself, I embraced the stress, and I finished!

family photo


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