Using Stress to Power Through Obstacles

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Obstacles. Challenges. Hurdles. We all have them. And when they present themselves in our lives, our first instinct is usually to fret. Before we can make an assessment about the gravity of the situation, before we can remind ourselves that we’ve been here, and we’ve seen this before in some respect, worry is typically our go-to.

When we feel stress, particularly an overwhelming amount, our fight-or-flight mechanism conditions many of us to choose the latter–but that’s because there is a myopic view of stress that says that it can only be extremely harmful. There is, however, an upside to stress.

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The other side of stress is that it pressures us to take action on items we have to, forces us to contemplate situations we’d rather forget, and provides us with enough information and input to make better decisions and to navigate difficult circumstances.

Training yourself to deal with stress.

We have the power to train ourselves on how to react to obstacles; in other words we all have the ability to use stress as a vaccine. Psychologists call it stress inoculation.

While it may seem an ideal, many of us have had incidents where, a looming deadline forced us to complete something we were lollygagging on, or a relative asked for help on something that needed to be done immediately and we couldn’t say no, but we managed to produce something pretty high quality in a relatively short period of time.

This is not to encourage procrastination, but just to remind ourselves that stress can be good, but also to develop a mind that looks for opportunities in seeming challenges, because once you begin to do so, a challenge will never look the same again.

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Pay attention to your stress pre-cursors.

Stress is ultimately a response to a circumstance or situation that we find so challenging that we label it an obstacle. Obstacles are designed to disallow passage through a course.

If our automatic response then, to what we perceive as a limit to achieving a goal, is to recede within ourselves and forget about our own capacity to resolve a situation, or remember a time where we flawlessly executed during a difficult set of circumstances, we lose the game before it is even played.


Stress can affect people differently, so my intention is not to limit the intimidation or the physical responses one may have from it. Rather I hope that we can all begin to use this biological sensor, to help us achieve more.

If we can find it within ourselves to pay close enough attention to the pre-cursors to the challenges that we face, we can create a dynamic where our responses can tell us what we need to do first.

For example, if a stressful situation causes you to block everything else out, and disregard your responsibilities, instead of allowing the overwhelm to set in first, do something that de-stresses you.

Since stress is a response to a feeling of overwhelm, perhaps you can take a 10-minute walk to calm yourself, or take five minutes to articulate what possible solutions exist aside from the obvious, or use other techniques that are tailored particularly to you. This is so that, when a difficult circumstance arises, your automatic response is to address the situation at hand, even in some small way.

In this regard, stress can serve as a reminder of our ability to hand out butt-whoopings, to situations that try to stand in the way of our senses of tranquility or the path to our grind. It is up to us, ultimately to determine how we deal, and which tools we use to reveal to ourselves, how much stuff we are made of.

NOTES: Two books have worked to expand my ability to accept challenges and understand my capacity to withstand them. They are: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and The Obstacle is the Way, by Ryan Holiday.

My varsity basketball coach used to call us out for lollygagging and being lackadaisical, so those two words are forever embedded in my memory, and show themselves often–my apologies if you find its usage absurd.

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