Stress - A Tool for Success?
Updated: Feb 25, 2019
Change your perspective on stress to serve you best
We Americans are notorious for our fast-paced society and chaotic way of life. Constantly trying to go farther and get there faster. This is supposed to lead us to success - the more we can squeeze into one day, the more efficient we are and the bigger our paychecks will be. Living under these high demands brings an overabundance of stress and anxiety. Then, on top of this emotional strain, we are expected to hide how it makes us feel and pose as cool and collected. How did we come to perceive stress as a weakness and something we should conceal? While some people are faced with truly crippling anxiety or depression and need to rely on medication to prevent it from interfering with their day-to-day life, the rate at which these meds are over-prescribed is abominable. To put things into perspective, Abilify, an antipsychotic initially developed to treat schizophrenia, currently ranks as our nation’s number two top selling prescription drug.
Despite this destructive mentality that we must sweep our emotions under the rug, various studies show that confronting our stress and perceiving it as an opportunity for growth can improve our health and even decrease the risk of mortality. In a study at the University of Wisconsin, nearly 29,000 participants were asked to rate their level of stress throughout the past year from mild to moderate to high. They were also asked if they perceive the effects of stress as negative. Eight years later the researchers reviewed death records of the participants and found that those who reported high levels of stress and believed it negatively impact their lives had a 43% increased risk of mortality. Remarkably, those who reported high levels of stress but did not perceive it as negative were among the lowest mortality risk of all scenarios.
When faced with a stressful situation, our bodies release a neurohormone called cortisol. This release of cortisol causes our breathing to quicken and our hearts to beat harder and faster. If we let these reactions overwhelm us it can cloud our thinking and lead to irrational decision making. On the contrary, we can train ourselves to embrace this response and see it as a mechanism to help us rise to the challenge. Our quick breathing and pounding heart allow our bodies to pump maximum oxygen to our brains and increase our energy level. Oxytocin is another hormone that is released in response to stress. It is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone” and is responsible for mediating our social instincts. This is why we often seek social support when faced with difficult situations. While stress triggers inflammation and causes our blood vessels to constrict, oxytocin relaxes them and has an anti-inflammatory effect.
The next time you are feeling overwhelmed with stress, slow down and take a minute to remember its purpose and embrace it. Stress is advantageous. It makes us resilient and it makes us strong.