Summer is drawing to a close and the days are getting shorter. But are you feeling a bit stressed out for the year ahead? You wouldn't be alone. 
While it’s common to think stress damages our health and wellbeing, there’s evidence that a moderate level of stress is a natural part of life and a necessary part of normal human functioning. Here are five ways to make stress work for you.

1. Understand how stress works

According to Vanessa Bennett, founder of coaching company Next Evolution Performance, stress prepares the body for fast-paced action and is an important evolutionary development. 

“For high performance it’s absolutely crucial to have a certain amount of stress,” Vanessa said, “The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain we use for rational or cognitive thinking, has an optimal level of stress that’s required for high performance.”


The right amount of stress can lead to improvements in creativity and productivity.


Good stress is typically called challenge stress and is the sort we experience when we exercise, play competitive sport or prepare for an exam. The right amount can lead to improvements in creativity and productivity, serve as a personal motivator and performance booster, and encourage risk taking.

But this optimal level of stress is fraught with all sorts of potential complications if you don’t know how to handle it properly. 

It’s crucial to embrace stress, learn how to tolerate it and ultimately become comfortable with it, Vanessa said. Only then is it possible to enter the “high-performing zone”.

“If you don’t have enough stress, you won’t get you excited enough about anything or jump into gear,” she said.

Bad stress, known as “threat stress” is non-productive. It can present itself as anxiety or excessive worry over tasks we haven’t completed or events over which we have no control.

2. Know your tipping point 

A certain amount of stress can lead to better performance and productivity. The flipside, according to Happy Body at Work’s Sharon Richens, is that too much stress can leave us feeling panicked or like we’re running on empty. 

“The key to managing stress is finding out what makes you tip from coping to feeling overwhelmed,” Sharon said. 


The key to managing stress is finding out what makes you tip from coping to feeling overwhelmed.

“There’s a stress curve,” Sharon said, “You move up the stress curve to high performance and as you go over to the other side of that stress curve it’s a decline in productivity.” 

According to Sharon as you increase your stress to a certain point you’ll actually get increased productivity. 

“But once you go into what we call overwhelm, it’s a slippery slope,” she said, “The next stage is to go into anxiety and the next stage down generally is some sort of depression.”

3. Huff and puff

Sharon encourages us to listen to our stress signals. 

“When you feel like you’re about to tip over, take steps to reduce the load,” she said, “Check your breathing. If you are breathing short and shallow, chances are you are overstressed.” 

You can instantly break the stress by taking a long, slow deep breath

“This settles your mind and body, relaxes your system, decreases your blood pressure, slows your heart rate and decreases stress hormones,” Sharon said.


Check your breathing – if you are breathing short and shallow, chances are you are overstressed.

“Getting stress out of your body makes a huge difference to how you feel at the end of the day and how well you sleep at night,” Sharon explained, “Huff and puff is when our heart rate is elevated so that we can talk but we can’t sing.” 

Try climbing a flight of stairs, walking quickly up a steep hill or adding a short sprint in-between telegraph poles on your daily walk. 

“Three-to-five minutes of ‘huff and puff’ a day is all you need. Short bursts of ‘huff and puff’ exercise are fantastic for you brain, mood and energy,” Sharon said.

4. Find a balance

It’s vital that each person take a unique approach to finding the right balance of stress for them. According to Vanessa we need to take a three-dimensional approach to high performance. 

“It depends on the needs and frameworks of the individual, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to high performance,” she said.

Sharon also encouraged individuality. “Everyone’s built differently and everyone functions differently,” she said, “Embracing moderation and flexibility is one of the keys to a less-stressed life. Find your own balance of what’s right for you.” 

This story was originally published on 25/11/2016