The World According to Tim: The Answer to Stress May Be More Stress!

The World According to Tim: The Answer to Stress May Be More Stress!

By Tim E. Renzelmann

One morning recently, as I headed out the door for a hike on the nearby Ice Age Trail, Shel (my wife) said to me, “Have fun!” As strange as this may sound... on this particular occasion I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this will-intended wish. I simply said, “Thanks!” But, once I got out on the trail, my mind returned to that moment.

Sure, I enjoy many of the ways I choose live, to move my body and to experience the outdoors. And, quite often, I have a lot of fun! But there is so much to it than that. On this particular day, it was less about doing something for the sake of fun and more about doing something that, deep down, I felt that I needed to do.

I had been feeling stressed!

Stress. Sometimes it just hits us. Our heart begins to pound, breaths become quick and shallow, the stomach begins to churn, perspiration rolls down the brow, sweat fills the palms and we experience an agitation that makes it difficult to concentrate or relax. We all know the symptoms.

I needed this hike to deal with that stress!

At the beginning of the year I set a personal goal of traversing the 36-mile section of the Ice Age Trail between Hwy P (near Glenbeulah) and Ridge Road (near Kewaskum) in multiple short, out and back segments (thereby doubling the distance) at least once during each season of the year (winter, spring, summer and fall). This hike was one of nine hikes since January 4th that was part of my winter traverse (which I completed on March 19th - just one day before the spring deadline)! 😊

I’ve hiked this entire section of trail many times before. On a few occasions, I have covered the distance in this same manner (multiple short out and back segments over several months). I have also completed the route (out and back) on several multi-day backpack outings and I have even covered the full distance (one way) in a single day on a couple of occasions.

Fun is typically a part of these experiences. But there is also a bit of stress involved. There is the stress related to the commitment of time (when there may be other things that could be done). There is the stress of the uncertainty (you never know what’s going to happen out there) along with the physical stress of the hilly and rugged terrain (when I could be relaxing at home) and the risk of injury or mishap (especially in icy and/or dark conditions).

Should I avoid all of this stress? Should I abandon the goal and just sit on the couch and relax? I don’t think so.

Granted, some relaxation is necessary and good... but, as they say, even too much of a good thing is seldom a good thing! If we spend too much time “relaxing” we are apt to create even more stress... whether it be from the inability to accomplish whatever it is we want to accomplish or because we may find ourselves dealing with physical and mental health issues related to inactivity

The generic term “stress” often gets a bad wrap! When most of us speak of stress, we refer to the bad kind of stress... the negative stress that causes distress in our lives. But there is a good kind of stress... a positive stress called eustress. Eustress is the kind of stress that can motivate us to work hard, improve our performance and reach for and accomplish our goals, even in the face of challenges.

It is important and beneficial to differentiate between the distress and the eustress in our lives instead of thinking that all stress is the same. Doing so (as illustrated in the below table) can help us better understand the different ways that “distress” and “eustress” can impact our perceptions, emotions, productivity and performance.


Impact On


Negative Threat


Positive Challenge










According to health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, “How you think and how you act can transform your experience of stress.”

Remember those symptoms of bad distress? The pounding heart, the rapid breathing, the funny feeling in your stomach, sweaty brow and palms, restlessness. She points out that those are the similar symptoms to a positive emotion very closely related to distress – excitement!

“That pounding heart,” McGonigal proposes, may be something we should welcome as it “is preparing you for action. If you're breathing faster, it's no problem. It's getting more oxygen to your brain.”

Too often, we automatically judge something as good or bad. My sister Valerie gave me a birthday card a few years back that was a reminder that there are more options than to simply look at that glass as half-full or half-empty. It read: “Some say this water glass is half empty... some say it is half full... some say let’s pour out the water and fill it with beer!” 😊 In other words, there is usually a plethora of different perspective that one can take regarding almost any situation.

I am not suggesting that you should consider yourself fortunate or get excited about being diagnosed with cancer... but I do challenge you to consider the best (or at least a better) perspective of whatever circumstances may be causing you any distress.

I also challenge you to consider that an effective way to cope with bad stress or distress in your life may not be to relax more... but to counter it with more stress... good stress... eustress. Fully expecting at least some of the stress of COVID-19 to continue through much of 2021, I am choosing to try and offset the “distress” of this pandemic with some helpful “eustress” of those seasonal hiking challenges. On that morning that I headed out on the trail... I wasn’t necessarily looking for fun... I was seeking stress... good stress... eustress.

After Shel reads this... the next time I’m heading out the door... she may say, “Have stress!”😊

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