Stop Stressing Out About Stress
Say you want to get rid of all the stress in your life?
That’d be one of the worst things that could happen to you.
Yet, amazingly, just 80 or so years ago, people didn’t talk about stress, although they obviously suffered from it.
“Stress” originated around the 1920s when a Hungarian medical student named Hans Selye noticed all the patients he saw on rounds shared a number of similar symptoms even though they had different diseases.
His teacher could accurately diagnose their condition based on their specific symptoms. However, Selye noticed his teacher did not mention the general fatigue, loss of appetite and unwillingness to go to work all the patients shared. To Selye, they all just plain looked sick.
Selye Eventually Researched and Described How Our Bodies React to General Environmental Conditions
He coined the term “stress,” then published his most well-known book, THE STRESS OF LIFE, in 1956. That made him the “father of stress.”
However, how Selye saw stress is different than how we casually use the term in normal conversations.
He recognized some stress is good. Without it, we would not be functional human beings.
Too much stress is what leads to illness.
Athletics Best Illustrates the Connection
Ambitious athletes and coaches since the beginning of time have known the best way to make someone stronger, fitter and faster was to work them hard.
That means, to apply stress to muscles, lungs, and heart. That stress does tear down and damage tissue.
The athlete’s body responds by rebuilding the tissue while they sleep.
However, the body rebuilds the tissue stronger than before, so it can perform better whenever asked to work out like that again.
Over time, these athletes get stronger and stronger.
Say you’re a typical couch potato, then you decide to run a marathon.
If you’ve never run before, can you just go enter a marathon and expect to finish?
Of course not. You start out running for ten, fifteen or maybe even twenty minutes. Then you gradually work up to the weekly mileage required to complete the 26.3 miles of a marathon.
You can’t adapt to the stress of running a marathon overnight. It’ll probably take years.
The temptation is to go too fast. Many athletes, amateur and pro, should give themselves more recovery time between workouts. If you have trouble sleeping, loss of appetite or depression, give yourself more rest.
The Right Amount of Stress is an Anti-Aging Technique
In fact, it’s a lot of anti-aging techniques.
Exercise – building muscle is important, and so is how it strengthens your heart and lungs. It improves the health of your endothelial lining and your entire cardiovascular system.
Running/walking/swimming/cycling on a regular basis forces your body to adapt to that stress. That improves your odds of surviving the lesser stress of ordinary life.
Saunas – Undergoing the minor stress of a sauna for 20-30 minutes on a regular basis improves cardiac risk factors and reduces all-cause mortality. It raises your body temperature and increases your heart rate – much like undergoing aerobic exercise.
Therefore, sitting in a sauna on a regular basis is a great way for people who are unwilling or unable to exercise to receive the benefits of a cardiovascular workout – though not the larger muscles. That requires stressing the muscle tissue.
And the effects are additive. For even better results, exercise and relax in a sauna on a regular basis.
Fasting – going without food long enough to use up all the stored glucose in your muscle tissue stresses your body, forcing it to adapt in many healthy ways.
Eating the polyphenols and phytonutrients in plants –
There’s a popular book warning people away from eating certain plants because they contain toxins plants evolved to protect themselves from insects. However, it turns out, that’s a good thing.
These phytochemicals are poison for pests, but in people, they trigger only a small cellular stress response. That activates the sirtuin-FOXO pathway, the NF-kappaB pathway, and the Nrf-2/ARE pathway. These lower our risk of cardiovascular disease, inflammatory conditions, and cancer.
(You can eat too many of these toxins, but only if you consume raw grains or beans.)
Use It or Lose It Is a Biological Law
Decades ago, science fiction writers believed people with bad hearts would thrive in the zero-gravity of outer space because they would not suffer from the stress of Earth’s gravitational field.
Now we know that’s false. Without the stress of gravity, the human body grows weaker. Astronauts exercise daily and yet can barely stand up when they return to Earth.
I believe this is why so many people go downhill after they retire. Without a job that demands a regular response from them, they stay in their “comfort zone” – and that’s deadly.
That’s why I say having no stress would be the worst thing that could happen to you.
Of course, too much and the wrong kinds of stress can also be deadly, just as Selye discovered.
Therefore, my advice is:
If you have intolerable problems, solve them. That might mean changing jobs, changing relationships, changing where or how you live, and so on.
What you can’t change, find some kind of peace with through therapy or meditation.
Stress yourself in minor ways that are healthy because they’re under your control: fasting, exercise, and saunas.