Following on from last week’s posting, take an analogy if you will, concerning this profitable input of stress from the activity of the gymnasium and regular roadwork in athletic and sporting pursuit. Exposure to controlled bursts of stressful exercise and related activity, followed by controlled periods of rest, is precisely what brings the body to the peak of fitness. Conversely, place a limb in a plaster cast for only a week and the muscles and other means of support will begin to atrophy, i.e. loose their normal ability to function. Reliable research clearly shows that children who have been ‘cosseted’ in childhood and adolescence, experience far greater difficulty in handling stressful situations later on in adulthood.
Of course, we do not in the ordinary way of life so regulate and control the input of emotional and psychological stress as one might, say within the gym: e.g. we do not somehow ‘conjure up’ that traffic jam in order to be late for a carefully pre-booked flight or an important meeting. Nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly evident from reliable and well-controlled research studies that exposure to such short bursts of these and similar stressful events can be and indeed, are good for us.
Now we must be in no doubt as to what is being stated here. It is in no way being claimed that we for example do our growing during the stressful period, whether in the gym or in life, but rather in the resting and “recovery” period. Indeed, that is precisely what recovery means, i.e. growth and development via rest as we respond to the stimulus of stress. But perhaps the most poignant and meaningful challenge to the “stress is bad for you” ‘school’ of thought, is the obvious truth that stress does not result from simple and straightforward exposure to happenings within the environment, be they concerned with world events or personal misfortune. It is never a wise move just to thole (put up with) it. Moreover – and as we have seen in the above and will witness again – ‘one man’s threat is another man’s challenge’.
So it is that we again recognize the relevance and importance of those key terms, personal perception and individual interpretation. What might be the case (and recent findings are showing that such issues are far more complex and inextricably interwoven with the medium and long-term effects of other significant life events) is that chronic, i.e. unremitting and unrelieved emotional stress is potentially harmful and requires the input of an appropriate counter strategy, as I hope to outline and illustrate in next week’s blog.