How To Short-Circuit Stress

stressI generally avoid the term “hacks” when referring to tips on improving yourself, and this topic is no different.  This is, however, probably the closest I will ever get to a hack on this website (I feel dirty just saying that).

Life today is a non-stop slew of obligations, responsibilities, and tasks.  Without proper planning and task management, it is incredibly easy to become overwhelmed.  The purpose of this post (or this website) is not to go into organizing your life.  Rather, this is one simple trick I have inadvertently discovered to keep my stress levels under control in even the most trying of circumstances.

get into fights

Okay yes, I am being a little hyperbolic with that statement.  I am NOT actually advocating you go out on the street and pick fights with random people.  That’s a recipe for serious injury, death, jail time, and lawsuits (including a few directed at me).  What I should say is to compete in a sparring competition.

  • Full-contact, knockout rules
  • In the largest venue you can get into

Who would suggest such a thing?  How does this even help me manage stress?

In order to answer this question, we’re going to need to delve into some Psychology 101…

Enter maslow’s hierarchy of needs

maslows-hierarchy-of-needs1There are three tiers that are directly influenced by sparring.  Two of the tiers are positively affected while the final tier is adversely affected.  Review the pyramid for a moment and I’m sure you can guess which ones they are.

Tier 5: Self-actualization (positively influenced)

Just the mere act of striving to better yourself increases your confidence and acts as a barrier against stress.  You don’t even need to win your competition for Tier 5 of Maslow’s Chart to be activated (although winning will definitely give you a bigger boost than simply competing).  Those who view themselves as strong, capable individuals are less likely to succumb to the minutia of daily life.

For this tier to be properly activated however, you MUST actually dedicate yourself towards improving your skill and physique.

Entering a competition without any preparation will just result in a bloody nose and bruised ego. 

Conversely, if you lose a competition you trained your butt off for, you’ll still leave with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Tier 4: esteem needs (positively influenced)

Tier 4 affects our stress response very similarly to Tier 5.  When our sense of accomplishment is increased, we naturally become more stress-resistant.  It all revolves around your sense of confidence, competence, and social status.  Not much more to say about it.

Tier 2: safety needs (negatively influenced)

So this is what my original post was going to focus on, but while doing some research, I found how competitive sparring influenced multiple aspects of the pyramid and felt the need to further elaborate.

Generally speaking, the further down the pyramid you go, the more acute and urgent the stress becomes when a certain set of needs aren’t being met.  That’s why full-contact sparring is so effective at short-circuiting stress.  You are in immediate, and very real, peril.

There is someone standing directly in front of you that wants to cause you physical harm!

To make matters worse, there’s also a crowd of people to watch every move you make (remember how I said earlier to compete in the largest venue you can find?).  Talk about stress!  In fact, it’s so overwhelming, that it is common for people to simply shut down during a match.  I’ve seen many people who fancy themselves the next Steven Lopez only to stand in the ring like a deer in the headlights.

Don’t let that deter you.  I’ve frozen up many times myself.  It’s when you break past the overwhelming feeling of danger that you are freed from stress.  Nothing you will experience in the office is as scary as someone trying to knock you out.

It’s this exposure to your very safety that keeps regular daily stressors in perspective.

screamingDeadlines looming around the corner?

At least your boss isn’t breaking your nose.

Customers screaming at you over the phone?

Still easier than fighting in front of thousands.


I’ve been so calm and collected while everyone around me were going ballistic that once someone actually thought I was a serial killer.  I laughed at the absurdity of this statement, but it got me thinking…Not of killing people!  It made me think of what has allowed me to stay so relaxed.

For a long time I attributed it to my Type B personality.  Now I realize that isn’t it at all.  It was from all the competitions I’d been participating in from such an early age.  My first competition was 16 years ago when I was only 14.  I was intentionally, yet unknowingly, subjecting myself to intense and acute stress at a relatively young age.

Just like muscles grow from lifting weight, my capacity to handle stress grew by subjecting myself to high amounts of it.

I no longer freeze up when something unexpected happens.  I immediately jump into action.  That’s not to say I always instinctively respond with the best solution to the problem, but I rarely suffer from the paralysis that many others suffer from.  Even in situations where I don’t know what to do, I still act.

The mere act of moving helps diffuse the stress and paralysis.

So there you have it.  The simplest way to dominate stress.  Put yourself in an environment with impossibly high levels of stress and force yourself to adapt.  Don’t expect it to work after the first competition.  I don’t know when I finally adapted to high-stress situations, but I can tell you that I have over a decade’s worth of competitions under my belt; 8 of those years were on the national level.  It’s not a light switch that just magically turns on one day.  Rather, it is a gradual process where your mind adapts over time.  It requires diligent training and sincere effort, but you will come out stronger; both mentally and physically.

“Martial arts is not about fighting; it’s about building character.” – Bo Bennett


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