Stress to Success: How to Use “Good Stress” to Succeed in Competition

Julia Pitlyk
Stress To Success

Stress is often perceived as a negative experience, but the right kind of stress can actually fuel your success in competition and beyond. Read on to learn about “good stress”, how to distinguish it from the bad and ways you can harness it to take your competitive edge to the next level!

Two Types of Stress

Stress tends to feel the same no matter what, but it turns out there are actually two types of stress. So, what are they? Distress, or the “bad” form of stress, feels like massive overwhelm or anxiety, and is usually brought on by something that seems threatening or unsafe. This usually comes from negative situations, like losing a loved one, having financial issues or being overwhelmed with commitments. The physical and mental anxiety you feel is your body’s way of signaling that something is wrong.

On the other hand, “good” stress, or eustress, is the stress you feel when encountering a big life event that’s positive, like starting college, asking your crush to prom or competing in a DECA event. The scenarios that bring on good stress are often more challenges than threats, but the anxiety and stress you feel can be similar to distress.

Turn “Good Stress” into Your Competitive Advantage

Some of the most successful athletes, performers and professionals will tell you that it’s not a lack of stress or nerves that make them great, but how they channel that energy to help them succeed. So how can you use good stress to make yourself a better competitor?

1. Own It

First, recognize that feeling “good stress” about a big challenge, like a DECA competition or job interview, isn’t something to be ashamed of. Feeling a bit of anxiety means that you really care about doing well – and that’s a good thing! It shows you take the opportunity seriously, which is something judges and interviewers appreciate. But don’t let the stress own you. To start, tell yourself that your nerves are okay and that you are in control of your stress – not the other way around.

2. Turn Worry into Action

Being stressed about a situation – even if it’s good stress – often means running through future scenarios and “what if’s” over and over in your head. Don’t let your overthinking spiral out of control; use your worries to help determine how to best prepare for the real event. For example, if you keep worrying about something going wrong with your PowerPoint during your written event presentation, turn that worry into three action items to prevent that. They could be emailing a backup to an advisor, saving a copy to the cloud and having your advisor bring an extra laptop. This technique turns your worry into productive, proactive action steps to help you succeed.

3. Focus on Positive Outcomes

Despite your best preparation, not every scenario will go according to plan. A judge may ask you a tough question in a role-play that makes you fumble, or your talking points may not flow as smoothly as you would like when presenting. These situations can open the door for more bad stress in already stressful situations if you let them. Instead, remember that stress is usually a state of mind and that you can turn these bad stressors into positive motivation. For example, critical feedback from a judge could be viewed as negative or hurtful, creating a bad stress response. Or, you could view it as expert information that will make you better the next time you compete. It may sound like just a mind trick, but over time this re-framing technique will build a habit of turning potentially stressful outcomes into opportunities to fuel your future success.

Next time you notice the warning signs of stress, pause to consider if it’s good or bad. If it’s good, embrace it; if it’s negative, find a way to flip it to positive!


Note: The bad kind of stress is no joke, and prolonged periods of distress can be bad for your health. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with mental, physical or emotional distress, don’t wait. Talk to a trusted adult or medical professional.

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