People have discussed the issue of stress over the years. We have blamed it for everything from cancer to heart disease to emotional disturbances. There is no doubt that stress can have a dramatic impact on our lives. For years, however, I have maintained that too little stress is just as detrimental as too much.
When I first came to Australia and practiced in a small country town, I was amazed how stressed some of my patients were, going into the “big city” of Perth. At that time, Perth had less than a million people. I had come from Toronto, Canada, which had close to three million inhabitants so from my perspective, Perth seemed quiet and laid-back. It taught me that stress is relative, and we all have different perceptions of what is stressful.
Over the years, I came to the conclusion that having a degree of pressure increased one’s ability to cope with stress; much like training muscles or your brain. After experiencing tension in my own life, I recognized that I had benefited from pressure.
It was with some satisfaction that I came across a new book by Professor Ian Robertson, The Stress Test: how pressure can make you stronger and sharper. His research shows that a chemical called noradrenaline released in the brain to deal with stressful situations actually enhances brain function when it is present in moderate amounts.
So what are the benefits that we can derive from stress?
- Stress Can Make You Stronger
Throughout our lives, we are met with challenges. Some address these challenges head-on, while others practice avoidance. We may believe that we can avoid stress, but life has a way of creating stressful situations. If we take on challenges that are stressful, then overcoming them teaches us that we have the resiliency to overcome stress. The more that we overcome pressure situations, the more we are training ourselves to handle stress. Therefore, some level of stress is useful––it makes us stronger.
- Stress Can Increase Performance
If you think back to your days in high school or university, you probably remember experiencing some very stressful moments while studying and preparing for exams. For some students, the stress can be overwhelming, and they can become ill as a result. However, if you experienced moderate stress, it probably gave you the impetus to study hard and do your best. Experiencing the stress meant that you considered it important enough to do something about it and achieve greater things.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, there was a great ice hockey goaltender by the name of Glen Hall. He was known for his goaltending, but also for one other reason; he would experience so much stress before a game, that he would have to throw up before every game in which he played. Apparently, for him, the stress and anxiety, and subsequent vomiting resulted in the ability to give top-notch performances.
Stress, because it stimulates our fight or flight mechanism, can sometimes can lead to superhuman performances. We see this in athletes and in other situations. For example, we have heard of instances where someone could literally lift a vehicle off the ground which had run over someone.
- Stress Can Enhance Your Immune System
We are constantly told that stress is not good for us and makes us sick, so how can it be good for our immune system? There is good stress and bad stress. Long-term continuous tension can be bad for us while short-term stress can be quite beneficial.
When the body is experiencing stress, it kicks into the fight or flight reaction to protect itself. There are several hormones that are released such as cortisol and adrenaline in response to the perceived threat. A study at Stanford University in 2012 confirmed that stress releases those chemicals that bolster the cells of the immune system which help to fight infections and other threats.
Remember that tension is not all bad or good, but we must have a balance of stress and periods that are free of pressure. Then we move ahead with a greater degree of success and certainty in our lives.
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