Positively Stressed?

What are the benefits?

is stress actually a good thing for our physiology?

Stress is just misunderstood!

Today I thought I'd give stress a break and take a look at it's softer side.  Does it have one?  Is it really so destructive or is it really a soft cuddly misunderstood little cutie?  Well, yes and no.  I've covered what stress actually is in previous blogs and how we can activate our stress reaction based on our perception of a threat and our ability to cope with it, so today I want to look at stress from a motivational point of view.

If we think of our stress reaction, we could think 'motivation mechanism.'  Our stress reaction is activated as a result of our brain perceiving a need for action and engaging the Autonomic Nervous System, specifically the Sympathetic part.

A Typical Day....

6.30am - The Sympathetic part of the Autonomic Nervous System, stimulates you to wake up and get out of bed.  You remember that today you have an office lunch because that long term pain in the bum colleague is finally leaving to go and talk to squirrels or something.  You spring out of bed and prepare breakfast, shout at the kids, switch on the shower, eat kids, shout at your breakfast (no wait, hang on - the other way round), shout at the kids more, realise you left the shower running and run upstairs only to find one of the kids is now locked in the bathroom hogging the shower, shout at this particular child more, shoo kids out of the house (whilst they are still dressing and eating toast), drive them to school, and head into work, whilst negotiating a barely conscious pedestrian who steps out in front of you requiring your stress reaction to instantly switch from moderate level to emergency to allow you to react to the threat, jump on the brakes and avoid calamity (not that the pedestrian even noticed how close to death he came!).  Then your Parasympathetic part of your Autonomic (meaning – it works automatically and without your conscious intervention) Nervous System kicks in having assessed that the emergency is over and attempts to bring you back down to a more appropriate level.  Phew - and all before work starts!

Still Valid Today

So, as we can see, this stress reaction is still very valid today.  We have to deal with all manner of stimulus, challenges and threats, pleasant or otherwise and our motivation level is adjusted accordingly by a complex set of processes including the stress reaction and involving a load of our bodily functions and organs.

Bottom line?  We need our stress reaction, to stimulate us to action in any given set of circumstances. Otherwise, what would get us out of bed on a morning?

A Question for you..

The key question with this stress reaction is:  Is it being activated too little, too much, too frequently or for too long?

I did chuck in 'too little' in that question, because it does seem that, having a stress reaction, we are physically and psychologically disposed to action and challenge (some more than others granted).  Therefore, when we find ourselves inactive, unchallenged, under-stimulated or bored for extended periods of time, we can experience negative health consequences.  In fact, this can feel very stressful in itself.  Have you ever had a job or role where you find yourself so bored, so unchallenged, where the work is so monotonous, that you feel anxious, or stressed?  It may well be that you are not getting 'stressed' enough!

So, if we understand what we mean by stress, or more specifically our stress reaction, it becomes clear that it is not just a hangover from evolution.  It is a vital part of our physiology and, if we get it right - provides the basis for great health and fulfillment.

Keep an eye out for the next blog.

Dave Algeo
Motivational Speaker on resilience and men's mental health. 

Feeling maxed out?  No headspace, time or energy? Here's a short video with three tips to help you.