SportStars Magazine

Good Stress: How Athletes Can Use Stress In A Good Way

Good Stress, Erika Westhoff

Level Up Insider Erika Westhoff Details How Athletes Can Actually Use A Little Stress In Their Lives •

Stress gets a lot of bad press these days. There’s no doubt that chronic stress can wreak havoc on our health and performance. And so many of my clients come to me seeking help to handle the various forms of stress that high performance brings them as athletes. 

The good news is there’s a lot we can do to help. It’s also important to realize stress is absolutely required for strong performance and good health. It’s what helps propel our bodies and minds to develop strength, new skills and push us to our limits. 

There’s a term for this positive form of stress: “eustress.” It’s defined as “any stressor that motivates an individual toward an optimal level of performance or health.” 

Some days on the field (court/course) may feel like you’re appropriately stressed and pushing hard (aka “grinding”). The other days may feel more like acute stress (or distress). That is, intense in nature but short in duration (fitness day, working through a difficult drill, having a conflict with your teammate or coach).  

Certainly, both types of stress are part of the journey of competitive sports, but let’s take a closer look at how stress benefits you as an athlete.

 • It helps you build muscle.

 • In moderate doses, it teaches how to handle stress in the future (builds resilience)

 • It helps provide you with intensity to push through frustration until you figure out the drill or new skill.

 • It counter-balances the feelings of joy that come with accomplishments. You can’t have one without the other. 

It’s a fine line between distress and eustress. Your perception can greatly influence how you interpret your stress. Thus, acknowledging ahead of time that your journey through sport will have many moments of distress (frustration, uncomfortable feelings, wanting to give up or quit) can help you navigate those times. 

To help you work through stress-filled days, I encourage you to write yourself a note on a good day. Offer yourself a positive perspective that might be hard to find when you’re feeling frustrated and defeated. Write something on your phone’s note app so it’s mobile and you can easily retrieve it on a tough day. It’s an amazing experience to coach yourself through challenging days. 

Stress is required. Make it work for you! 

Erika Westhoff is a CEO and certified mental trainer at EW Performance in Pleasanton.

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