An Introduction to Stress Well

All of us have dealt with stress at some point in our lives, so we might as well learn how to experience that stress in a healthy way. People, books, and websites tout ways to reduce stress, avoid stress, or compartmentalize and ignore it. But no matter which of these methods you attempt, avoiding stress is not the solution. I believe that a more effective way to cope with stress is to find ways to examine, evaluate, and manage stress well, rather than avoid it.

Everyone experiences stress at some point in their lives, if not daily or often. Daily stressors are caused by various factors like concerns about money, difficulty with a task at work or school, trouble communicating with a family member or friend, or generalized worry about the future. Larger stressful events like losing a job, moving, losing a spouse or family member, or dealing with a serious health problem can cause more acute stress responses, and might potentially confound the amount of stress experienced in your daily life. The point is, in different shapes, sizes, and intensities, everyone has encountered stress. You are not alone in your experience of stress, and by sharing both what I’ve learned through classes and research about stress, as well as the ways that I’ve coped with stress personally, I hope to help you feel less alone in this journey.

Since the beginning of time stress has acted as a survival mechanism to nearly every living thing. If you think back to the hunter-gatherer time of human existence, a stress response is what would result from a stimulus, and a potentially dangerous stimulus, and would motivate a human to react in a way to escape that danger.  Acute stress has helped organisms to survive imminent dangers while daily stress has motivated organisms to engage in activities necessary to survival, like acquiring food, water, and shelter, or engaging in activities that will enhance their survival, like going to work every day. As a motivator or driver, stress has served a role in organic and human existence since the beginning of time, and it is not going away. It cannot be avoided and it cannot be eliminated from the body. We might as well learn how to deal with it.

Finally, stress is not always bad, and it doesn’t always signal danger. According to the Yerkes-Dodson law, established in 1908, there is an inverted U-curve relationship between pressure (or arousal) and performance. This law states that as physiological arousal increases, so does performance, but only up until a certain point. When pressure reaches a certain point and becomes too high, performance will start to decrease.  By this law, a small amount of stress or pressure might act as a motivator and is correlated with increased performance, but only up to a certain point of stress, after which it might become harmful to a person mentally, physically, and emotionally.  The more we understand about stress in general, in addition to our unique experiences of stress, the better we can cope with it.

The fact that stress can reach a point in which it becomes harmful to human health is the reason we have been seeking ways to manage and cope with it. Facing stress head-on might be the best way to manage it both in the moment and in the long run. However, there are no quick fixes. From my experience, the practice of facing stress head-on is both terrifying and exhilarating, but you will be stronger emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually, because of it. I hope from visiting this site, of anything you gain a new perspective on managing stress, and learn that stress is not always the enemy. If you can work to understand your stress, and work with it rather than against it, you can learn to stress well.

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