Stress, What is it Good For?

Absolutely nothing.

Stressed PersonOk, so that’s not entirely true. But 99.9% of reactions to stress nowadays are harmful and unnecessary.

Most of us have heard that the physiologic (body) response to stress has evolved to run away from woolly mammoths or saber tooth tigers or something along those lines.

Here’s a whirlwind tour on what stress is doing to you and your body, why it sucks, and what you can do about it to have a happier, more kick ass life.

Well, ok, great, but we were also club-swinging unibrow-sporting troglodytes (word of the day for ya). Things have changed. So why on earth would morning traffic and work deadlines cause the same effects in your body as a near-death experience as the hands (or claws?) of a neolithic lion? Because, for the most part, deep deep down in your genes and cells, not much has changed. You’re still living, breathing and metabolizing like its 1999. B.C that is.

And what is stress and who defines it anyways? What cranks one person’s stress-o-meter up to 11 (public speaking anyone?), is exciting, challenging and enjoyable to another. Well, the million dollar answer is: that person, thing, event or activity that is “stressful” is only stressful because you’re responding stressfully to it.

Ok, before I go too esoteric and off into “what is is” land, let me break it down another way: stress as a word was not created to describe a human physiologic response. It came from civil engineering, and only afterwards did biology researchers take the idea and apply it to the human body. Stress is a force from the outside that is exerting its effects in you (or a bridge, but why split hairs). Or to quote the never-wrong wikipedia, “stress is a measure of the internal forces acting within a deformable body.” Sexy definition, right?

So something is trying to deform your body (boss breathing down your neck, kids going nuts, no time to yourself) and stress is the amount those things are affecting you, internally.

But. But. The real kicker of all this is you have a choice in the matter. You can choose how all those external forces affect your internal forces and deform your body. (ok, I’ll stop with the engineering talk)

There are many ways you can respond physiologically (and emotionally) to potentially stress-inducing events and interactions.

How do you respond? Crack like an eggshell? Crumble like saltine?

How do you want to respond? Bounce back from any hardship like a superball? Nonchalantly and gracefully move from one project to the next like a slinky?

You may have minimal influence over commuter traffic, paying the bills and having a ever-expanding to do list with never enough time– but what you do have maximal influence over is your response.

This is more than a matter of “just think good thoughts” or “quit your job and move to Fiji” (though if you’re looking to take a concierge doctor to Fiji with you, let me know). I work with people to build up their internal reserves so that they can react to life more like a slinky and less like an eggshell.

Getting and maintaining that attribute is a process (unless you do just move to Fiji)- but one that when working together, I have always seen stress diminish, anxiety dissolve and positivity and resilience grow in their place. And from that standpoint, you can take on the tigers and bosses without losing your cool.

To your good health,

Dr. Angela is a doctor, a writer, a recovering stressaholic who works with her patients to climate stress. As a Naturopathic Doctor she has the unique joy of being a supportive guide to work together with her patient to improve their health one step at a time. She practices in Southeast Portland at The Rose City Health Clinic.  Thanks to PDX Holistic Medicine for sharing this article.




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