We are all living in uncertain and stressful times right now. Although these times may be hard, it also is what makes us stronger. If we can get through the tough and difficult things, we will come out on the other side fostering resiliency, courage, and strength.
“Your strength comes from embracing the challenges in life.”
When we feel we are experiencing stress it first appears as physical symptoms. We may feel our heart race, our breath quicken, our palms become sweaty, mind racing, and other symptoms that send a signal to our brain that something is not ok. Our brain takes these signals to be something dangerous and sends them to our “lizard brain,” otherwise known as the amygdala, where the flight, flight, or freeze response kicks in. This is a defense mechanism to protect us when our body and brain believes that we are in danger.
However, what if we aren’t in danger? The world we live in is no longer like it was back in the caveman days. We can leave our homes without the worry of being mulled by a tiger or lion. We can use our phones to check what the weather will be before we go on a trip without being swept away by a tropical storm. Yes, there still are dangers in our world, but it’s much less than it used to be.
Although we may physically live in a safer world, our psychological makeup is still wired to see the danger in places where danger might not be present. Often when we feel pressure or experience something stressful, such as tryouts in our sport, a big game, an interview, or an important test, our bodies react the same way as we would if we encounter a tiger. These two do not compare though in actual danger. The danger we are experiencing is perceived danger, not actual danger. We may not be able to change our physical response to these experiences, but we can recognize when this stress response is occurring and change how we perceive it so that we can use it to our advantage before our lizard brain kicks in.
New studies have discovered that stress may actually be good for us. If perceived in a productive way, stress actually strengthens us. It enhances our focus as well in a time where it’s needed most. If we can learn to embrace the stress and pressure in a situation, like a high stakes performance, we will come out on the other side on top.
Let me tell you a story about butterflies…
When a butterfly first begins to emerge from its cocoon, it must struggle in order to strengthen its wings. If someone frees the butterfly from its cocoon before it’s ready, the butterfly will not be able to fly. This is because the butterfly’s crucial tempering stage will not have occurred and they will not be strong enough. Essentially, the butterfly finds it’s strength through the struggle.
What does this mean? It means that we are like butterflies! We NEED to struggle in order to find ways to overcome, adapt, and rise from the stress we are enduring so that we can come out stronger. If we are “saved,” then we will not learn the valuable lessons that come from the struggle.
This is why helicopter or lawnmower parents are actually damaging their children’s grit. They are interfering with their child’s experience to embrace the struggle, to persist, and to come through it, in the end, stronger than before. These are valuable life skills for kids to learn that will propel them forward in their future. Life is not easy. We will suffer and we willl fail. We will endure challenging and stressful times. However, the sooner we experience this the sooner we develop the tools to get through these situations in a way that strengthens us instead of destroying us.
The same goes for athletics. In the world of sports there is a lot of stress that coaches, teams, and athletes experience physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Your athletic career may be full of ups and downs, highs and lows, and goods and bad times. Remind yourself during those lulls in your career that this is preparing you. It’s strengthening you to become even better than you were before. We need challenges to rise. No athlete, team, or coach had a perfect career. They all experienced struggle. They all experienced stress. They all experienced pressure and have failed. It’s all about how you view it and how you push through it.
View your struggles and challenges as being in your own cocoon. It will become the very thing that will strengthen your wings, in the end, to allow us to fly forward. Just like a caterpillar turns into a beautiful butterfly due to the stress and struggle it encounters – we must learn to become our own butterfly by finding the beauty in the struggle.
Stress isn’t inherently bad. It only becomes harmful when we perceive it as a negative thing. If we can change our perception and see it as a productive thing – we get stronger and we build from it.
“If we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.”