Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher once said “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” It’s a sentiment expressing that the pressure and stress we experience may be actually good for us. But, many people feel that in today’s world, the pressures we face are too much to handle. However, many health and psychology experts feel that pressure doesn’t have to turn into stressful situations. In fact, what we perceive as stress-inducing events can actually make us stronger, and better. (1)
Difference Between Pressure and Stress
People use the terms pressure and stress interchangeably, but they represent different things. Stress is our body’s response to the demands placed upon it. It’s completely natural, and oftentimes, can help us out in a tight spot. When faced with a challenge or threat, a person’s body reacts physically in the way of releasing cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These chemicals make the heart beat faster, raise blood pressure, and prepare the body for fight or flight. Muscles tense. We sweat. (2)
Pressure, however, is what we experience that often results in stress. To be honest, though, pressure does not cause stress. People react differently to events. Some cave under the pressure. Others seem to not let anything affect them. Our own personal experiences and characteristics that make us each unique also influence the way our minds perceive stress and respond to pressure. (3)
Pressure and Stress Can Really Get You Down
There are tons of ways that pressure can result in stress. Wanting to be a good parent, spouse, or partner adds pressure to our family life and relationships. Pressure to perform well at work, complete tasks, and be a dependable team player add to our stress. Then we occasionally experience acute stress– a traffic jam, losing a client or job, or a sick child. These can compound the pressure we’re already feeling.
When we experience too much pressure, it affects our body in a multitude of ways:
- We breathe harder, which can lead to panic or anxiety attacks.
- Cortisol is released, suppressing the immune system, making us more susceptible to illnesses.
- Tension in muscles leads to body pain, especially the shoulders, neck, and head, and can result in painful migraines or severe tension headaches.
- Heart rate and blood pressure rise. If stress occurs over a long period of time, it can increase risk for cardiovascular emergencies.
- Some people experience gastrointestinal issues as a result of stress and poor eating habits.
- Stress can hit our reproductive systems, too. Chronic stress affects the production of important hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. Women often experience more severe PMS symptoms and changes in their cycle.
- Quality of sleep diminishes due to constant state of alertness. (3,4)
Pressure and Stress Can Also Be Good for You
The pitfalls of stress can stress a person out just thinking and reading about it! However, stress is not necessarily an evil we must avoid at all costs. Stress can actually be a great thing. The true function is to help humans survive. Pressure and stress activate the fight-or-flight mechanism and prepare the body physically and mentally for the risks and challenges ahead. Once the threat is over, our bodies return to a normal state. It’s only when the mind perceives threat after threat, danger after danger, that the stress becomes harmful. (2)
Stress is complex. It can do a mind and body good, having the potential to either boost your performance, or diminish it. It’s all in how you perceive pressure and stress that determines how it will affect you. When you perceive it as dangerous, it is. On the other hand, if you think stress can enhance your performance, it will help you do exactly that. So rather than try to get rid of the pressures in our lives that cause stress, we’re much better off looking for ways to embrace them and use them to our advantage. (5)
Get Excited for Stress
Multiple studies have shown that stress can either help us perform better or make us choke under pressure. Those who worry about their skills tend to be negatively affected, whereas pressure has been shown to actually boost performances of those who are confident. (1)
In a 2014 volunteer study, participants wore heart-rate monitors as they prepared and presented various nerve-racking situations. These include singing karaoke in front of strangers, public speaking, and doing arithmetic problems under time pressure. They were given a statement to recite, either “I am calm” or “I’m excited”. Those who allowed themselves to feel their nerves, but turned it into excitement felt more self-confident, had lower heart-rates, and objectively performed better, at any of their assigned tasks. (1,5)
This one simple mindset shift can be a literal game-changer for those dealing with pressure and stress. Called the challenge response, it helps provide energy and focus to what’s important in the moment. Your heart-rate may still rise, and your palms may still get clammy or sweaty, but you approach the challenge with calm determination rather than fear. Looking at the pressures of day-to-day living as opportunities to grow, and get excited about them helps shift the negative stress into the helpful, productive stress. (5)
Pressure Doesn’t Have to Turn Into Stress
Simple tools are available to help you shift from feeling stressed out from pressure, to using stress and pressure to achieve success. Self-care is most important. Physical activity, practicing a sustainable eating lifestyle for you, and prioritizing your sleep are key ways to ensure stress doesn’t engulf your life, and drain our energy and health. Breathing and mindfulness meditation practices are incredibly helpful as well. These relaxation techniques slow down the heart rate and balance the mind and body to return to a normal, calm state. They also help us become more aware of anxiety and events that can lead to higher stress. Being mindful of changes can help prevent stress from becoming too overwhelming. (2,3)
Mindfulness and other relaxation techniques may require a bit of practice before you feel the effects. While there is no quick fix to ensure pressure doesn’t turn into stress, supplements such as Be Serene help. Be Serene calms the mind, reduces anxiety and our reactivity to stress, and helps shift our mindset from “I’m anxious” to “I’m excited”.
So, it appears Nietzsche was right after all. What doesn’t kill us can indeed make us stronger. With the right mindset, and helpful tools, we can work to become stronger, better, and thrive no matter what life throws at us.
- Robertson, Ian. The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper. 2016, Bloomsbury Publishing.
- McGonigal, Kelly. The Upside of Stress. 2015, Avery Publishing.