Why Stress and Pressure Can Actually Be Good for Us


“A diamond doesn’t start out polished and shining. It once was nothing special, but with enough pressure and time, becomes spectacular.” ~Solange Nicole

It’s one of the last days of summer, and I wake up to my mother screaming.

I’m ten, and I pull off the covers and sneak to my door. Opening it slowly, I peek out and look down the stairs.

Men have stormed into our house. Ignoring my mom, they head into the living room, pick up the sofa, and throw it out on the lawn. They do the same with the dinner table and the rest of our furniture. But they’re not thieves; they’re not here to rob us.

They’re here to evict us.

There was no notice mailed to inform us that they’d be coming, no note plastered on the door.

Our first notice was the ding dong of the evictors ringing the doorbell.

As a kid, I had no idea what to do. The amount of stress was overwhelming. I didn’t cry. I just sat down on the stairs, held my knees to my chest, and watched, numb.

All our rent had been paid on time, but the landlord pocketed the cash instead of paying the mortgage. We spent the next six months homeless, living in a motel.

It was one of the best things to ever happen to me.

It took me twenty years to realize it, and when I did, I grieved. I had forgotten about it for a long time, but when I remembered the details and how the eviction had shaped me, the tears came.

When you’re evicted like that as a kid, it changes you in a funny way. It creates a lot of stress, and a lot of fear.

For a long time I lived in fear that people might come in at any moment and take everything from me… but I didn’t know it. I just stopped trying at a lot of things.

Teachers at school would tell my mom I needed to “apply myself.” I didn’t work toward much; why bother when all your progress might be snatched up the next day?

Fear can hold us back without us realizing it. We might not call it fear, but maybe we say we’re “tense,” “feeling nervous,” or “stressed.” They’re often the same thing. It’s just a shadow hanging behind us, following us through life.

But what if it doesn’t have to?

When we were evicted, I didn’t know what to do and sat on the stairs. I froze.

But what about my mom? The source of the stress was the same for both of us, so did it make her sit down and give up?

After the initial shock, my mother went to work. She was a single mom taking care of her brain-injured brother and me. She had no time for a breakdown.

She picked up the phone and called friends and relatives for help. Out on the lawn she boxed up what she could and organized what we needed to get through the next few months in our motel room. Movers came and took the rest into storage.

The stress and fear my mother felt didn’t paralyze her. It motivated her to action.

The Power of Stress

For a long, long time after, I avoided stress as much as I could. I avoided it through school, and in college always took light class loads so I would never feel any pressure.

Like those movers had done to us, I evicted my stress.

But my life, empty of stress, was also empty of meaning. The two go hand in hand. If you want to life a meaningful life, stress is going to come with it.

We only feel stress toward the things we care about. As Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist at Stanford, says, “Stress only arises when something we care about is at stake.”

In college, living a stress-free life, I started to feel worthless. For six months, I hated myself.

Whenever I had class, I rode a train to and from campus. The train tempted me. All I had to do was step in front of it. Easy.

I held myself back, and I don’t really know why. The self-destructive feelings didn’t go away until I started putting myself under pressure. For me, it was writing. At the time I wanted to be a novelist, but wasn’t writing.

Starting to write put pressure on me. That gave me stress I needed. The depression lifted, and I started feeling happy again.

Give Your Stress a Home

Stress and fear are often the same response, and we can’t truly get rid of them (as much as we might like to). Being human, they’re always going to be there.

Being evicted was one of the best things to happen to me, even if I didn’t realize it for years.

On one level, living in a motel room for six months brought us closer as a family.

But on the other, it taught me how to work with my stress and fear (even if it took twenty years to learn it). It taught me to give my stress and fear a home.

We can run from our stress and fear all we want. It’ll chase after us, never letting us escape.

We don’t break free by getting away. We break free by turning around and seeing the stress and fear for what they really are.

They’re not there to hold you back; they’re there to point the way you have to grow.

I started looking at my stress and fear differently. Whenever I felt anxiety, stressed, or afraid, instead of seeing those feelings as warning signs to run away, I saw them as signs pointing me in the direction I needed to go to grow as a person.

Become like Diamond

Diamonds are one of the hardest materials we know of. They don’t get that way by sitting out in the sun.

Diamonds are formed under intense heat and thousands of pounds of pressure.

Your diamond self is waiting for you. Your stress, your fears, they don’t stand between you and what you want. As uncomfortable as they may feel, they’re the lanterns lighting your path.

You don’t have to leap down that road; you don’t even have to take a running start. You just have to start walking that path, one small step at a time.

Stressed woman image via Shutterstock

About Mark Reagan

Mark Reagan is a stress management coach and speaker who helps you overcome your overwhelm, reduce your stress and thrive under pressure. If you’re ready to take control of your stress, sign up for your free 30-day course on how to make your stress work for you and go from breaking down to breaking free at markreagan.com.

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