Stress is good for you…Wait, what?

Everyone experiences stress. Your heart rate is elevated, your breathing is faster, most likely due to adrenaline being released by your brain. It is your body’s response to life-threatening situations. I, for one, am happy that our body responds this way. When your heart rate and breathing increase, you can get more oxygen to your cells, and brain, so that you can think and act faster. Today I was extremely glad for this response. I was driving up to Anchorage and hit a spot of black ice and my van started fish-tailing. These responses happened immediately. I was able to focus on setting the van straight, without going into a spin. I kept breathing, although it was heavily, almsot like I was running. I could feel the adrenaline working. It was a very scary thing to happen going 60 miles an hour. Previous times that this has happened in Alaska, it was at a lower speed and I ended up in the ditch. I let up off the gas, tapped the break and gently corrected to try and get traction on the back tires. I was able to correct the van. Then I pulled over and broke down while I recovered from the adrenaline. Like I said, it was scary.

I am an emotional person, so for me to put the emotions aside so that I could get to safety is a big deal for me. When I was younger, I was in the passenger seat when my mother’s car hydroplaned and spun 450 degrees before landing in the ditch. I screamed the entire time.

However, more recently, I have been examining when I get these stress responses. The tightness in the chest, the anxiety, but it is not neccessarily a bad thing. Like I said, it saved me a lot of trouble today. If we didn’t have those respones, I do not think we would have come as far as we have come as a species. I have turned around my thinking about stress. I am thankful for it, instead of viewing it as bad. I heard on a TED Talk that stress is not bad, it is the perception of stress that decides whether stress affects a person negatively or not. Here is a study on it. Another study showed that a person’s stress response based on what their perception of stress was differed. The blood vessels constricted when stressed by those who had a negative view of stress, while the blood vessels expanded for those who viewed stress in a positive light. That means the heart rate rose in both groups, but the blood pressure only increased in one group. Wow, what a difference.

I am not saying that this change is happening over night. I have grown up hearing that “Stress is bad”, so it will take a while for me to fully change that thinking. Currently I am examining when my heart-rate increases and asking myself whether the situation I am in truly deserves that response from my body. But, boy, I am sure am glad that our body does have that reaction. 

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