4 Reasons why we should embrace stress

stress May 15, 2020

Stress, Friend or Foe?

Are you under a great deal of stress in everyday life and do you really think this is harmful?  If so, then this blog is especially for you.

First, we do a little stress test.

  • Question 1: How much stress /rush do you experience in everyday life: low, moderate or high?
  • Question 2: Do you believe this stress has a detrimental effect on your health: yes or no?
  • Question 3: How much time do you spend with family and friends (not on social media): low, moderate of high?

For years, scientists have led us to believe that stress is harmful to our health and that we must avoid stress. But is this correct? Is this advice not the result of wrong conclusions and don’t we worry without a reason?

I will give you 5 biblical and scientific reasons why you should embrace stress.

To Stress ore not to stress, that’s the question

55% of Americans and 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress. [1] They experience stress related symptoms like anxiety, depression, exhaustion and burnout. One out of three cases of sick-leave is caused by work-related stress. This makes work-related mental disorders the most common occupational disease. US businesses lose up to $300 billion yearly as a result of stress.

For years the medical community has put one over us that stress is bad for our health, makes us sick and have a higher risk of death. Especially in our stressful society, combatting stress seems justified. Stress would cause cardiovascular diseases which would increase the risk of premature death from, for example, a heart attack. However, new scientific studies show contradicting results

1. Embracing stress decreases risk of premature death

Stress is not the cause of health risk, but mainly our views on stress and how we are dealing with it! [2].  It is now time we start re-thinking and embrace stress. When we start thinking differently about stress, it also changes our body's reaction to the same stress! [3] In our current health education, the positive effects of stress are not sufficiently exposed.

Learning to deal with it in a positive way makes us more resistant to stress than walking away from it.  [2] Stress and pressure are not our natural enemies, but above all over views of stress (‘beliefs’) and how we experience that stress, these are the great culprits.

Stress, beliefs & health risk

A lot of research has been done into the combination of stress, cardiovascular disease and death. In an American study, a large group of people with a lot of stress is compared to a group of people with moderate or low stress. This shows that more people are relatively dying of cardiovascular diseases in the group with a high stress level. [4]

But when the question ‘do you think stress is harmful to your health’ was asked to the people with a lot of stress, they discovered a remarkable phenomenon:

The people who died.... were all people who thought stress was dangerous and harmful to their health.

Of the people from the same group who had a lot of stress but did NOT see this as negative for their health no one died!  In fact, their health risk and the risk of premature death were even lower than those of the people with low stress.

So not so much stress, but the combination with thinking that stress is harmful increases the chance of premature death by 43%. [4,5]. So, we thought that stress can cause stomach ulcer, but there too is the way how you experience the stress is the culprit. [6]

 It is all about your mind. The way you THINK 

2. Stress is part of life. Deal with it and achieve more.

Stress: challenge or threat

The well-known stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, actually increase blood pressure and the heartbeat and cause a rushed feeling. But these stress effects are experienced negatively by people with a lot of stress and at the same time think this is negative and threatening. [7]

Scandinavian studies have shown that not the people who HAVE a lot of stress, but who EXPERIENCE a lot of stress, visit a general practitioner (GP) or a psychologist more often and use stress medication like anti-depressants more often. [8]  Millions Amercans take anti-depressants. This medication is numbing, flattens feelings, and works addictive. Isn’t there another way?

Learning to deal with stress differently, in a life full of stress, works life-prolonging!

Scientists of Harvard University discovered another special phenomenon.  Normally, the blood vessels are pinched together during the stress reaction. This directly increases blood pressure and therefore the load on the heart muscle, as well as the risk of cardiovascular disease. But people who see stress as a challenge rather than a threat, react physically differently to stress stimuli and suffer less.

3. Stress boost your performance

Stress hormones are performance stimulating

Well-intentioned health advice often only shed light on the negative aspects of stress and are therefore more damaging than stress itself.

Suppose we turn these advices around and no longer see stress as an enemy but as an engine to be able to perform better and that we are going to see the so-called stress reaction of our body to a situation as a positive one... and that we are going to see the so-called stress reaction of our body to a situation as a positive one to be able to manage the situation. That would be a revolution in our stress management.

We all know that you have more stress hormones in your body before a game or performance, so your sensors are in focus, you are more alert, your muscle tension and muscle strength increase, your breathing frequency will rise and your heart will pump more powerful  [9]

 In short you are ready for action. A football coach is just cheering up his team to boost this reaction. Everybody thinks this is a good thing. But why would this reaction not be normal in a work situation?

The advice to avoid or reduce the things that give you stress (stressors) completely miss the mark. Stress, on the contrary, makes us better, push our boundaries and grow. The stress hormones release more energy, allowing you to perform better. Therefore, you might see stress as a friend rather than an enemy. When we deal with the stress reaction of our body (positive rather than negative), we will not only perform better, but will also reduce our chances of death.

4. Being more social and cuddling is the best medicine against stress.

Besides the well-known stress hormones, our pituitary gland in the brain also makes Oxytocin hormone at the same time. This hormone is also known as the ‘social hormone’ or ‘cuddly hormone’. 

It is being released in stress, but also in cuddling. It makes us more social, gives you more meaning in social contacts and touching. Oxytocin inhibits inflammation in your body and protects against the negative effects of stress on our heart and vessels.  Our heart has even specific receptors for this hormone.  Oxytocin enhances recovery of the heart muscle from stress related heart damage!   [11]

Oxytocin's effect is reduced in people with few social contacts [12] however, the production and effect of Oxytocin is increasing in social contacts, frequently physical contact, cuddling and be caring for others in your area.  

Caring for people in your area (compassion), makes you more resistant to stress and helps you recover more quickly from the negative effects of stress.[13] Conclusion of an American study is that the risk of death increases by 30% after a stressful event like losing your job, however, this risk DOES NOT increase among people who have been around someone in their environment in the past year. [14] So the ancient biblical principle of ‘take care of your neighbor’ really works.

Conclusion:

Dealing with stress-related complaints requires a new concept:  Make stress your friend!

We will have to learn to deal with stress in a different manner. The body uses stress hormones as an energy driving force and produces at the same time protecting hormones.  Social contacts, dealing with people in a loving caring manner, especially when we have of lot of stress, are vital. The switch in your head of ‘I must perform and prove myself’ to ‘what can I contribute to help others works miracles. [14]

Tips:

  • Start your day with a positive attitude
  • Intend using your energy to do good things
  • Imagine using your energy to do good things
  • Plan time this week to spend with your friends and family
  • Plan time to exercise, which helps to discharge the stress energy
  • Make time every week to help at least 1 person in your area (without expecting anything in return)

When you experience stress and increase of your heart rate and breathing, say to yourself: my body reacts healthy to a nice challenge!

Finally

Perhaps you have a lot of stress-related complaints, with this article I certainly do not want to downplay your situation and complaints or claim that stress is nothing but good. It is also a question of equilibrium. With my blog, I hope to put people to think. It is well worth trying it one way or the other. Over the last 30 years, I have been able to help many people as a coach. I have worked with high level sport athletes, well-known actors & music artists and leaders. But I also worked as an expert in re-integration on behalf of health insurers. Everyone has to deal with stress. My claim is still: we only live once, let’s make life enjoyable.  Our Spirit, Body & Soul are able to cope with stress. Living in faith, doing regular physical exercise, eating healthy and take time for (sabbath) rest is my way of dealing with stress.

References

  1. The American Institute of Stress. https://www.stress.org/42-worrying-workplace-stress-statistics.
  2. Liu JJ, Vickers K, Reed M, Hadad M.(2017).Re-conceptualizing stress: Shifting views on the consequences of stress and its effects on stress reactivity. PLoS One. 2017 Mar 8;12(3):e0173188.
  3. Jamieson JP, Crum AJ, Goyer JP, Marotta ME, Akinola M.(2018).Optimizing stress responses with reappraisal and mindset interventions: an integrated model. Anxiety Stress Coping. 2018 May;31(3):245-261.
  4. Keller A, Litzelman K, Wisk LE, Maddox T, Cheng ER, Creswell PD, Witt WP.(2012). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health Psychol. Sep;31(5):677-84.
  5. Prior A, Fenger-Grøn M, Larsen KK, Larsen FB, et al. (2016).The Association Between Perceived Stress and Mortality Among People With Multimorbidity: A Prospective Population-Based Cohort Study. Am J Epidemiol. 2016 Aug 1;184(3):199-210.
  6. Deding U, Ejlskov L, Grabas MP, Nielsen BJ, et al.(2016).Perceived stress as a risk factor for peptic ulcers: a register-based cohort study. BMC Gastroenterol. Nov 28;16(1):140.
  7. Jamieson JP, Nock MK, Mendes WB. (2012).Mind over matter: reappraising arousal improves cardiovascular and cognitive responses to stress. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2012 Aug;141(3):417-22.
  8. Prior A, Vestergaard M, Kjær Larsen K, Fenger-Grøn M. (2018).Association between perceived stress, multimorbidity and primary care health services: a Danish population-based cohort study. BMJ Open. 2018; 8(2): e018323.
  9. Moore LJ, Vine SJ, Wilson MR, Freeman P. (2015). Reappraising Threat: How to Optimize Performance Under Pressure. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2015 Jun;37(3):339-43.
  10. Neumann ID.(2013).Brain oxytocin: a key regulator of emotional and social behaviours in both females and males. J Neuroendocrinol. 2008 Jun;20(6):858-65.
  11. Gutkowska J, Jankowski M, Antunes-Rodrigues J. (2014).The role of oxytocin in cardiovascular regulation. Braz J Med Biol Res. Feb;47(3):206-14.
  12. Kumsta R, Heinrichs M.(2013).Oxytocin, stress and social behavior: neurogenetics of the human oxytocin system. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2013 Feb;23(1):11-6.
  13. Abelson JL, Erickson TM, Mayer SE, Crocker J, Briggs H, Lopez-Duran NL, Liberzon I. (2014). Brief cognitive intervention can modulate neuroendocrine stress responses to the Trier Social Stress Test: buffering effects of a compassionate goal orientation. Psychoneuroendocrinology. Jun;44:60-70.
  14. Poulin MJ, Brown SL, Dillard AJ, Smith DM. (2013). Giving to others and the association between stress and mortality. Am J Public Health. 2013 Sep;103(9):1649-55.

Karl Noten is a well-known Physical Therapist/Manual Therapist, Orthomolecular Nutrition Specialist, Extended Scope Specialist, MSU Echo Graphist, Elite Athletic Trainer and Owner of Fysio Physics Group, with over 50 Physical Therapist practices, a Medical Rehabilitation Centre, Co-Owner of two Swiss Medical Companies, owner of Fit People USA, Teacher in Physical Therapy and Orthopaedic Rehabilitation, Author of 27 books, Founder of the Fysio Physics 4xT®Method and various lifestyle programs. He regularly works with celebrities, leaders and world champion athletes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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