Stress and Competition: The Helping Hand That Can Hurt

“I have to put my pride aside. I have to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being. That’s why I decided to take a step back.”

–Simone Biles

It’s safe to say we’ve all experienced a level of stress above and beyond the norm lately. With so much going on globally and so many rapid changes, many of us have been left feeling like we’re “empty” and wondering what our next step should be.

If you’re feeling discouraged by the effect chronic stress has had on your life, just know you’re not alone. A recent poll revealed that 1 out of every 4 Americans reported themselves as experiencing a great deal of stress. Even superstar athletes like Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles have recently openly discussed the effect stress has on overall well-being.

So, now that the world is finally getting in on the conversation about stress and mental health, we thought it was important to share our philosophy about psychological stress, its effects on your mental and physical health, and what to do about it.

Can Stress be Beneficial?

Everyday life stressors can actually be used to your advantage. To understand this phenomenon, let’s examine the function of stress in the first place. Think back to our nomadic ancestors. If a predator came into their encampment, stress would kick in, triggering their nervous system to release several essential hormones; cortisol, epinephrine, and adrenaline, as a way of preparing them for a potentially dangerous situation. These hormones create a unique psychological and physical state in the body marked by a racing heart, sweaty palms, heightened awareness, and visual alertness. These days, we talk about this as being in “fight-or-flight mode.”

You can glean some surprising benefits from being in a temporary state of fight-or-flight, including:

  • Better memory
  • A boost to the immune system
  • A leg-up in the workplace
  • An advantage in competition
  • A more exciting and engaging life

This “good stress” is referred to as eustress (or moderate psychological stress interpreted as beneficial to the person experiencing it). But eustress can go too far, last too long, and devolve into something that affects your mental and physical health if not properly controlled.

When Eustress Goes Too Far

Here’s a shocking wake-up call: You could be living with unhealthy levels of stress without actually realizing it. It’s essential to know the common (and lesser-known) symptoms of stress so you can quickly identify and treat it.

Stress symptoms:

  • Back pain
  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Irregular or missed periods and extreme menstrual cramps
  • Nightmares or night terrors
  • Problems with sleep
  • Sore jaw or teeth clenching
  • Stomach aches, constipation, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • Tightness in the neck or shoulders

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it may be time to sit down and evaluate the effect stress is having on your health. Without proper mitigation techniques, stress can do some real damage to your overall well-being.

Top 5 Ways chronic stress sabotages your health:

  1. It can be a precursor to chronic headaches and migraines
  2. Stress contributes to decreased immune system function
  3. You may have an increased risk of developing autoimmune illness if you experience chronic stress
  4. Adrenal fatigue can be triggered by a high-stress lifestyle
  5. Chronic inflammation and resulting cardiovascular dysfunction are known consequences of chronic stress

So, as you can see, stress can be good for you. But only in small doses.

The Simone Biles Effect

Imagine the level of pressure and stress a world-class athlete like Simone Biles has experienced in her lifetime. At only 24 years of age, Biles has competed in and won 31 Olympic and World Championship medals – making her one of the most decorated gymnasts of all time. Role models like Simone Biles may seem infallible and otherworldly, but she reminded us recently that is just not true, sharing:

“We also have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day, we’re human, too. We have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”

–Simone Biles

Biles has made the bold and self-compassionate decision to withdraw from the 2020 Summer Olympics team competition to take care of her mental health after experiencing a bout of “the twisties,” or a disconnection between body and mind. This move has sparked a worldwide conversation about the value and importance of stress mitigation in a high-stress world, with Biles stating:

 “I think just as a whole, not having an audience, there are a lot of different variables going into it. It’s been a long week. It’s been a long Olympic process. It’s been a long year. So, [there’s] just a lot of different variables, and I think we’re just a little bit too stressed out. But we should be out here having fun, and sometimes that’s not the case.”

–Simone Biles

With so many expectations hoisted upon her strong and capable shoulders, Biles has stepped up and decided she would do what is best for her health – step down. We could all learn something from this courageous move in our own lives. If something isn’t working for you and is causing you a dangerous amount of stress, it is time to find a mitigation technique that works for you.

Natural Solutions to Keeping Stress Under Control

For Simone Biles, her best move to reduce her stress (and its potential effects on her health) was to step down from the world’s stage and get “good mental rest.” For you, reducing stress may look different.

Let’s explore some natural techniques to reduce stress that can make all the difference in your life.

We hope you find these resources helpful in creating a peaceful lifestyle conducive to healing from stress, chronic pain, and more. If you would like to connect with others who actively work to nurture their physical and mental well-being, we invite you to join our Pain Free For Life Support Group on Facebook. In it, we share free trainings, health-boosting recipes, endless support, and so much more.

We can’t wait to see you there!

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