Look on the bright side of stress

Lesotho Times - - Health -

DON’T stress out! Or do. De­spite the bad rep­u­ta­tion that stress has long held, there is a grow­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion that pres­sure has its perks.

“You think that stress is bad, but re­search shows that in mod­er­a­tion and with the proper re­sources, not all stress is bad,” said Elisabeth Con­radt, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Utah.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween bad and good stress, some ex­perts ar­gue, is all in how we view the sit­u­a­tion. It is the dif­fer­ence be­tween feel­ing dis­tress, the ugly side of stress we all know too well, ver­sus its feel­good cousin called eus­tress.

At least that is the premise in the book The Up­side Of Stress: Why stress is good for you and how to get good at it, which came out this month.

It was writ­ten by Kelly Mcgoni­gal, a psy­chol­o­gist at Stan­ford Univer­sity, and there is re­search to back up her ar­gu­ment. A 2013 study, for ex­am­ple, sug­gested that peo­ple who saw stress as a nat­u­ral re­sponse were bet­ter able to fend off panic and per­form well in a public speak­ing task.

The ben­e­fits of sur­viv­ing stress­ful sit­u­a­tions, and cop­ing with them ef­fec­tively, could add up. “The thought is that this can set you up to be more re­silient to fac­ing stres­sors later on,” Con­radt said.

The abil­ity to with­stand stress may also help you har­ness the ben­e­fits that come with be­ing in a bind. One small study found that young men had boosts in their short-term mem­ory af­ter they were put in a so­cially stress­ful sit­u­a­tion. Other re­ports sug­gest that pres­sure can make you more cre­ative and re­spon­si­ble.

The good, the bad and the toxic Although events or life changes, such as buy­ing a house or get­ting mar­ried, seem joy­ous, they are stres­sors nonethe­less. “Noth­ing is ob­jec­tively pos­i­tive, it’s all in how you per­ceive it,” said Todd Kash­dan, pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity. “Peo­ple stress about these things and our thoughts about these sit­u­a­tions mat­ter im­mensely,” he said.

Like­wise, most sit­u­a­tions are also not ob­jec­tively neg­a­tive, although some do qual­ify, Kash­dan said. As­sault, nat­u­ral dis­as­ter and los­ing a job are a few. Still, these stresses are man­age­able, es­pe­cially with sup­port from fam­ily and friends.

Yet there are cases where stress can be dan­ger­ous. Toxic stress, which can be borne out of high-level or fre­quent ad­ver­sity, oc­curs when our body’s stress re­sponse that nor­mally helps us cope with a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion — in­clud­ing in­creased heart­beat and stress hor­mone lev­els — goes into over­drive.

It can have last­ing dam­age, par­tic­u­larly in chil­dren, who may suf­fer de­vel­op­men­tal de­lays and face higher risk of chronic dis­eases.

The more you know The 2013 study that asked peo­ple to en­gage in public speak­ing gave about half the par­tic­i­pants a les­son about stress be­fore they went into the un­com­fort­able sit­u­a­tion. The les­son cov­ered how the body’s stress re­sponse is im­por­tant for sur­vival and stud­ies on the psy­cho­log­i­cal ben­e­fits of stress. Not only did the ed­u­cated half have a more mild phys­i­cal re­sponse to public speak­ing, such as main­tain­ing a lower heart rate, they also per­formed bet­ter ac­cord­ing to a panel of judges.

“Public speak­ing can be a stress- ful thing for a lot of peo­ple,” said Con­radt, who was not in­volved in the study. “In this re­search it’s all about how you ap­praise the sit­u­a­tion and how you think about what it means to be stressed.”

Put a la­bel on it Ac­cord­ing to Kash­dan, there are strate­gies to turn a sit­u­a­tion such as public speak­ing, which he says is the great­est fear in the United States, from a ter­ri­fy­ing threat into a mo­ti­vat­ing chal­lenge. Part of it comes down to giv­ing your emo­tions a name.

Kash­dan and his col­leagues re­cently re­viewed stud­ies that found peo­ple who ex­plain their emo­tions in spe­cific terms are prob­a­bly at lower risk of be­ing over­whelmed in stress­ful sit­u­a­tions. “If I say, ‘I am sad’ or ‘I am an­gry,’ in­stead of some­thing crude like, ‘I am stressed out,’ I can so­licit help or fig­ure out what to do,” said Kash­dan, who is the au­thor of, “The Up­side of your Dark Side,” which ex­plores how per­son­al­ity traits that are gen­er­ally viewed as un­de­sir­able, such as be­ing sub­mis­sive or self­ish, can be ad­van­ta­geous.

Perks of stress Stress is more than just a nui­sance we have to deal with. It is a re­minder that we are do­ing some­thing we are pas­sion­ate about. As Mcgoni­gal wrote in her book, “You don’t stress out about things you don’t care about, and you can’t cre­ate a mean­ing­ful life with­out ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some stress.”

Kash­dan agrees. With­out stress, he said, “we would not have longterm re­la­tion­ships and friend­ships, par­ent­ing would be im­pos­si­ble, you could not be­come wise or strong.” He added that, “Any­time there’s an op­por­tu­nity to show­case your strength or po­ten­tial and there’s a chal­lenge, there is an op­por­tu­nity for ‘good stress’.” — CNN

Un­der­stand­ing the ben­e­fits of our body’s stress re­sponse can help us per­form un­der pres­sure.

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