Stress won't kill you, but...
Updated: Jan 3
Your attitude towards stress will.
It’s quite astonishing how attitude in this case makes all the difference.
Stress is actually a useful tool; nature has built it into you as a survival mechanism.
In nature however, stress is associated with the fight or flight response – it’s extreme bursts of stress for a short period of time, followed by a prolonged period of relative calm.
Think of a Zebra on the Savannah escaping the terror of being pursued by a Lion.
Stress has a very real and useful purpose in that case.
Humans too benefit from stress, however our relationship to time is very different.
Rather than short bursts of high stress (during imminent danger), we project into the future or spend time reliving the past.
This leads to prolonged states of anxiety that simulates the stress response.
Your heart rate increases, cortisol levels increase, your breaths shorten and you get by on adrenalin.
Exactly as a Zebra would when it’s fighting for it’s life.
The difference however, is you’re not in any imminent danger, so in essence, what you’re experiencing is unnatural.
It’s a manufactured threat.
Your body can’t process the physiological responses associated with stress indefinitely.
But viewed a little differently, stress can be seen as very useful if experienced in the right way and for the right reasons.
Stress has the capacity to not only keep you alive, but propel you forward by kicking you into gear.
It even contributes to your growth in many ways.
So in essence, it’s not stress that kills you, it’s one of two things:
1. Prolonged periods of anxiety, that results in you triggering the stress response indefinitely in your body, which is unnatural and unsustainable by all accounts. And/or;
2. Your attitude to stress.
Research (see also Mind Over Matter study); tends to suggest, that your attitude towards stress, seeing it as harmful to your health, is a key differentiating factor in determining whether stress actually has adverse effects on you.
Embracing stress as a natural part of both your nature and your growth tends to diminish the long-term negative effects of stress.
Which I find absolutely fascinating!
This seems to reinforce the view that embracing the attitude that struggle, stress and indeed in some ways, even suffering, can be good for you; diminishes the risk of stress related illness substantially.
This seems to be reflected in the great mythological stories in our history and indeed in Joseph Campbell’s reflections on the hero’s journey.
There is something embedded deep in the narrative that 'great triumphs come only after overcoming great levels of adversity' , that seems to resonate with all of us.
As if you know that to be true at some deeper fundamental level.
So next time you’re facing some adversity, or indeed stress in your life, embrace it, work through it and triumph over it.
Begin to see it as both a necessary and natural part of your growth.
See how that works for you.