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Stress myths, programming your brain into believing that stress helps

What is it with this idea that there is such a thing as “positive stress” or “constructive stress” and on the other hand, “negative stress” or destructive stress”? Isn’t it a way to program your brain into thinking that stress is good, that it actually helps you in achieving your goals, that it is something to accept, rather than run away from…? Let’s see…

First of all, what is stress and how does it work?

Well, the definition of stress available on Wikipedia states that “stress, either physiological or biological, is an organism's response to a stressor such as an environmental condition. Stress is the body's method of reacting to a condition such as a threat, challenge or physical and psychological barrier. Stimuli that alter an organism's environment are responded to by multiple systems in the body. In humans and most mammals, the autonomic nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis are the two major systems that respond to stress. Through these mechanisms, stress can alter memory functions, reward, immune function, metabolism and susceptibility to diseases.”

Therefore, stress determines a physical and psychological reaction to certain stimuli that lead to certain behavioral patterns and determine a certain response. It can easily bare long-term effects on our life and it may become chronic. For example, after intensely studying for an exam, our brain gives us the sensation that it is incapable of absorbing anything extra and it gets wired up. Thus, a chemical reaction is triggered and we feel exhausted, incapable of learning anything new. Also, over-working or over-thinking can trigger a stress related reaction translated into fatigue, lack of focus, memory laps, and the list goes on. A stress triggered behavior can also stop us from considering all perspectives during the process of making a decision, pushing us to consider only the most obvious and easy to evaluate risks and leaving out others that could have a huge impact on results. Needless to say that in project management or process improvement, for example, that approach can be devastating.

And who hasn’t heard of stress being the illness of the century, actually being the cause of anxiety, panic related disorders, cancer, digestive illnesses and so many more?

But how come some people believe nowadays that stress can be constructive? Is it true that an environment focused on cut-throat competition and spiced up with stress may lead to more results, better outcome or enhanced creativity? Do we really need to face “danger” to be creative? Does stress really lead to better things or so it may seem…?

In my view, the fight or flight response is triggered every time we are facing tight deadlines, the need to fire-fight an unexpected issue or launch an ambitious project, for example. Our brain “tells” us that if we want to “survive”, we have to give it our best to achieve the target, no matter the consequences or methods we employ, and this is how we can cross our limits towards over-work, illnesses and loss of balance.

Because in life, everything is about balance and as soon as that pattern is broken, stress comes into the picture. So, the question is how do we manage stress? By keeping it balanced. Not over-doing it in the hope of achieving more or better, but by doing it right, in the right amount, at the right time, using the right tools.

Clearly defining goals, setting priorities, focusing on actual results, keeping it real, celebrating every little victory keeps us focused, prepared and set for success. And all this leads to constant growth and balanced evolution, is that simple. You know, one will move a mountain one stone at a time.

How do you manage stress in your life?


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