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Stress Isn’t Necessarily a Bad Thing

If you ask someone about stress, you’re likely to hear how they have too much in their lives and what they’re doing to try to eliminate it.  However, stress isn’t always a bad thing–in fact, some stress is vital to our well-being.  Even animals in the wild deal with some stress on a daily basis, and that helps them to survive.  For example, the brain is primed to pump out stress hormones when in a situation of possible danger.  These hormones spur the brain into action, usually prompting an animal to flee a situation, and thereby preserving their life.  This could also be said of humans: when we go into a situation that is nerve-inducing, lets say public speaking, our brains also pump out stress hormones.  But if the public speaking event goes successfully, we consider it “good stress” and are grateful.

Stress that Drags on Isn’t Good for Our Health

So why are there so many books and other self-help tools to eliminate stress from our lives if stress isn’t all bad?  It turns out that if we experience stress for too long of a time, it can have a detrimental effect on our health.  Some health experts call this “toxic stress”, and it can literally make you sick because of the toll on the body’s stress system.  However, before you go blaming cell phones and “modern technology”, you might want to step back a second.  If you think about our more recent ancestors, you will remember the kinds of stress they dealt with, such as infectious diseases that could easily kill children that we now have immunizations and other treatments to resolve.  Furthermore, when asked what stresses them out most, Americans still tend to name the same three things that have historically stressed us out: 1) the death of a loved one; 2) illness; and 3) disease.

Some People Biologically Primed to Deal With Stress Better

It’s true that stress can wreak havoc on our health.  Recent studies have shown that women’s metabolism slows down after eating a large meal during times of high stress, and other studies show that stress can lead to an increased risk of stroke.  However, the fact is that some people just deal better with stress.  That doesn’t mean that those who don’t deal well with stress are to blame for their heightened response to stressful times–some people are biologically primed to deal better.  For example, animal behaviorists have found that some animals will actually seek out risky situations, while others shy away from them.  In fact, researchers have found that animals can actually be bred for this propensity.  This is commonly called “temperament” in humans, but it’s also true that our reactions to stress aren’t just purely biologically based.  Instead, we are also a product of our environments, and how parents teach their children to respond to stressful situations also affects our ability to tolerate stress.  So, while a lot of stress isn’t good for the body, a little stress is liking working an “emotional muscle” and our ability to cope can be honed over time.


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