A Whole9 guest post by Dr Sult, medical doctor, medical educator, inspirational speaker & the author of Just Be Well: A Book For Seekers of Vibrant Health.
How to Make Stress Work for You
Have you ever had a project to do with plenty of time to get it done, yet you just couldn’t bring yourself to get around to doing it? Until, of course, the deadline was upon you. Though you may have broken into a sweat of anxiety, you finally buckled down and focused, and knocked the project out of the park.
Why, you asked yourself, couldn’t you have harnessed that concentration earlier instead of waiting until you felt the stress of the impending deadline?
Maybe it was because the stress, while somewhat anxiety-producing, wasn’t bad stress.
When we think of stress, we typically think of it as a negative. The kind that brings on tension headaches, sleepless nights, and ulcers. But stress can be a galvanizing emotion that gets us moving toward completing our goals.
What is Good Stress?
Stress occurs when an event triggers a fight or flight response in the brain and body. Initially, stress can provide focus. That surge of adrenaline you experience before a presentation can help you think on your feet and answer the toughest questions. Stories abound of people who demonstrate superhuman strength in an emergency, enabling them to lift cars off of people trapped underneath.
Stress can also help the body. An article in the Stanford University School of Medicine newsletter says stress can also boost the body’s immune system during surgery, healing, infection, or even cancer.
But too much of a good thing can be bad. Although stress, in small doses, can be beneficial, when it occurs chronically, it wears on the body, eventually damaging it. Constant stress can lead to heart disease, sleep problems, depression, weight gain, and memory and cognitive impairment.
The key to managing stress is to have enough good stress but not enough negative stress. Dr. Peter Nixon, a British cardiologist, developed a diagram called the Human Function Curve that elegantly illustrates the balance of good and bad stress.
(Nixon, P: Practitioner 1979)
In the diagram, it’s easy to see that stress, in the form of healthy tension, can improve performance, but when the stress level reaches the peak (here called “The Hump”), fatigue sets in and distress begins, followed by exhaustion and ill health.
By understanding this diagram, we can work harder to stay on the good side of stress. The Meno Clinic suggests three steps to maximize the stress that builds physical and mental strength:
- Exercise. It increases endorphins in the body that stimulate the immune system, reducing stress.
- Keep a positive attitude. Research indicates that people who look at life more positively are less affected by negative stress.
- Focus on one task at a time. Multitasking can bring on stress. Taking care of one job at a time can provide a greater sense of accomplishment and decrease feelings of being overwhelmed.
Stress is inevitable in our lives, but by learning to recognize it, and knowing whether it is helping or hurting, we can keep it in balance so it’s beneficial.
Tom Sult is a medical doctor, medical educator, inspirational speaker & the author of Just Be Well: A Book For Seekers of Vibrant Health. Board-certified in family medicine & integrative holistic medicine, Tom is on faculty with the Institute for Functional Medicine and maintains a private practice in Willmar, MN. Join Tom’s crusade to change the way doctors treat their patients at www.justbewell.info. For more information on Tom’s practice please visit the 3rd Opinion website.
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