Tag Archives: progress

Is Stress Bad…or Good?

We long for straightforward answers, and so rarely get them. What will my future look like? What job will make me the happiest? What exercise and eating plan will make me feel the healthiest version of myself? So many questions that demand a black and white answer. But, most answers fall into the grey. Even the impacts of stress fall into the grey.

It seems that stress can be both bad and good, but since the scenarios of when and how stress can cause us to stumble are more abundant, we will look at a few profound examples of how stress can actually benefit us. These are what I like to call “slingshot” scenarios. They are challenging times that cause us to move backwards and presumably, lose ground on our goals.

If you understand the simple principle of a slingshot, then you know where I’m heading with this…a slingshot pulls an object back to maximal tension before subsequently propelling it forward faster and farther than it would have traveled on its own. The slingshot effect is awesome. Truly, awesome. Unfortunately, it’s not always fun to be approaching that maximal point of tension…and, if that point of tension is held for too long, the slingshot will likely break.

Is stress bad or good

So, is stress bad or good? Below we look at two examples from nature and human experience that suggest that stress in moderation doesn’t fit neatly into a good or bad category. Stress in moderation is a necessity. It helps us become more resilient. It helps us thrive.

Scientists decided to examine the life cycle of trees grown in a fully protected environment, “Biosphere 2,” compared with trees encountering the varying forces of nature. The scientists found that the trees in Biosphere 2 grew more quickly than the other trees. This seems great – remove environmental stress and the trees flourish. Well, not quite.

Although the trees grew quickly, they fell over after reaching maturity. In an article called The Necessity of Stress, Travis Brownley explains that the scientists came to realize the following:

“…a lack of wind in Biosphere 2 caused a deficiency of stress wood. Stress wood helps a tree position itself for optimal sun absorption and it also helps trees grow more solidly. Without stress wood, a tree can grow quickly, but it cannot support itself fully. It cannot withstand normal wear and tear, and survive. In other words, the trees needed some stress in order to thrive in the long run.”

We see a similar phenomenon when we move from nature to human experience. Alison Levine, team captain of the first ever American Women’s Everest Expedition, encountered the forces of nature on Mount Everest and shared her experience with the world in a profound Tedx Talks. The 20 minute talk is absolutely mind boggling. You will take away far more than you imagined in that short time. Alison brings our attention to the fact that an expedition up Mount Everest actually consists of a lot of time climbing down!

the summit

 One of Alison’s many amazing quotes.

Alison’s team had to hike ten days just to make it to base camp. After several days acclimating to Base Camp, her team hiked up the mountain to Camp 1 and then back to Base Camp. After this, they hiked to Camp 2, before returning once again to Base Camp. Then, they hiked to Camp 1, Camp 2, and at last, Camp 3. And then? Yes, they hiked all the way back down the mountain to Base Camp. Hiking back down after each moment of triumph, reaching a higher altitude, was necessary to acclimate, recover, and climb higher.

While hiking back down the mountain is an obvious example of the aforementioned slingshot effect, Alison also brings up another form of stress; slow progress.

Alison takes us through what happens at the Death Zone on Mount Everest. The Death Zone is at 26,000 ft. altitude, where life can’t be sustained. Thanks to important gear, and taking five to ten breaths for every single step taken, Alison’s team continued to climb towards the summit. Think about it – in order to survive, you have to take ONE step, and then FIVE to TEN breaths, before lifting the other leg. Alison jests in her Tedx Talks presentation, “so…if you ever think you’re having a slow day…” For real, Alison. For real.

Clearly, a slow application of stress can be vital for success. If Alison’s team had tried to face to the top, they would have experienced certain defeat. As it turns out, Alison was just 300 ft. from the top of Mount Everest on her first expedition when she had to turn around due to weather conditions. She returns and conquers the mountain, but she remains more changed from the climb than actually reaching the summit. 

Stress, powerful force

So, how do you deal with “stress in moderation” when it feels tedious and frustrating? Alison suggests what worked for her; focus on what’s directly in front of you and just try to reach that milestone. Once you reach it, find the courage to tell yourself that if you made it that far, then you can try to reach the next milestone, and go for it.

For Alison, and many of us, it’s hard to understand the future. And yes, that can be stressful. But, as Alison says, “Sometimes, I think, you don’t have to have total clarity in order to just put one foot in front of the other.”

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz logo 2

 

References:

https://travisma.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/the-necessity-of-stress/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hUybmqUVmM

 

 

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