Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Stress: It's Not All Bad News

Stress is not all bad news. This may come as a surprise because we tend to only talk about stress in the negative. To be sure, it carries quite a lot of negatives and some of them are pretty bad. Still, that is only one side of the story. It is past time for you to hear the other side:

The Effects of Stress Can Be Controlled

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Left unchecked, stress can kill. High blood pressure and elevated heart rate are just two of the potentially fatal consequences of stress. But we have medication that can fight even those consequences of stress and have for a very long time.

Stress has other effects that are not fatal but can be rather awkward all the same. Certain body chemistries combined with stress can produce excessive sweat. Though not always, sweat can be the carrier of offensive odor that can be socially devastating in the wrong situations.

While stress sweats cannot be completely eliminated, they can be controlled. You will need products like name brand deodorant to fight the smells and you can use antiperspirant products like SweatBlock to reduce the sweat for 4 to 7 days depending on the brand and formula you choose.

There are even techniques for dealing with nervousness and performance anxiety when the house lights are low and you have to make the presentation. None of this is to say that dealing with stress is fun or easy. And we are definitely not downplaying the serious consequences of unchecked stress. But there are ways to control even the worst of its effects. And that is very good news indeed.

Stress Is Necessary

We need stress to recognize and act on danger. Without it, we would die a thousand horrible and completely avoidable deaths because we were apathetic when we should have been frightened into action.

Stress produces cortisol which has the primary function of preparing the body for fight or flight. That is what keeps us alive and functioning in an emergency. That means stress is an evolutionary advantage. Like all evolutionary benefits, stress has to be kept in check. If not, it can turn against us.

Still, that is no reason to fear it.

Stress is common to all humans. In generic terms, it simply means to push something to its limit. A stress test is what we do when we need to maximize the potential of a thing to endure. The fact that we have a breaking point does not make stress a bad thing.

Stress Makes Us Stronger

There is a saying that "whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger." That is not literally true but the idea is sound. We get stronger by being pushed to and discovering new limits. Muscles don’t grow if not stressed. If you stop using your muscles they atrophy. Stress them properly and they grow stronger.

The same is true of mental and emotional strength. Soldiers are trained to be efficient under extremely high-stress situations because they are trained to use stress as one of their tools. One who carries the weight of the world with grace and competence is one who has been stress trained.

Avoiding stress at all costs cheats you out of an important tool for growth.

Stress Is a Warning

Before we get to fight or flight, we recognize that something isn’t quite right. Sometimes it is just a feeling, intuition. Sometimes, it is something more. Stress is a part of our early warning system that something in our life is off.

You wrinkle your nose. Is that smoke? It occurs to you that the kids are at home alone for a couple of hours. Did you turn the iron off after pressing that shirt? What you are feeling is the leading edge of stress. It is enough for you to stop the car and call the kids to make sure everything is alright. All alarms are annoying. But that clangorous cacophony of distracting dissonance is exactly the early warning system nature provides to keep us alive.

So, while excessive and uncontrolled stress is always bad, the good news is that it can be controlled. Stress is necessary. Stress can make you stronger. And stress is one of the best early warning systems that nature has ever produced.

This is a blog post by Nancy Evans.

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