Does stress have any value? Given the mountain of research showing the negative mental and physical effects of stress we have to ask the question; is stress the nemesis of happiness?
Stress is a response or reaction to a challenge or threat – if we feel we have the capability to meet the challenge we feel good, even excited – but if we don’t feel we can meet the challenge we can feel overwhelmed and this can push our fight and flight button causing an instant survival reaction. Chronic stress over time creates wear and tear on the body and has been medically linked to all the major diseases of our times such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and other inflammatory states in the body. Medical research also shows that chronic stress makes us hyper-vigilant and more prone to negative emotional states like anxiety, anger and depression.
Yet we do have a choice as to how we respond to any stressful event and that is the remarkable aspect of stress. We can accept and deal with an event, situation or person as a response or we can just react with aggression, fear or dismay.
The reality of life is that we work and live in environments that are going to challenge our well being, our sense of self and our comfort level. The key to the value of stress is in the evolutionary journey – if there was no challenge in life would we ever try something new and develop our potential? Would we evolve? The threat/challenge that produces the stress response also pushes life forms to find new ways to adapt and thrive. In that sense it has a value both to help us protect ourselves and to put pressure on us to develop new strategies. When this happens it can be very productive because a person reaches into themselves and develops new skills and efficiencies in response to their environment and life challenges. The person chooses to respond to a challenge rather than reacting defensively out of feelings of threat.
However, when the stress reaction does not trigger choice or an evolutionary development, then solutions and talents are not engaged and a person finds themselves in cycles of stress where they continually face the same problems. In this way stress can be destructive to health and well being.
Stress is the third member of the H.E.S. Test trio of Life Markers and is interconnected with Happiness and Energy because the better you feel, the more energy you have and the less situations and people can stress you. Think of a day when everything has been great for you and then you lose a credit card, how does this compare to experiencing a terrible day and then losing a credit card? We cope so much better with stressful situations when we have reserves of Happiness and the Energy it generates for us.