When is stress helpful?

As Hans Selye wrote, ‘With­out stress, there would be no life’, it has also been argued that distress can cause disease while stress can sometimes promote wellbeing, health and longevity stress is sometimes good.

It is sometimes the case that demands and pressures instigate a positive stress response. Some deadlines act as motivators for a person who would otherwise be bored, unenthusiastic and even lazy. Another example would be the effect of an adrenalin boost before running a 100 metre race.

There is a precise balance between pressure and performance expressed on a graph as a ‘bell shaped curve’. When there is minimal pressure motivating a person to do something regardless of its importance, the likelihood is that focused energy and attention would be spent attending more urgent or interesting tasks. As the pressure increased a person will enter a stage of optimum performance being motivated, driven and will achievements will be made. Conversely however, if the pressure becomes too much, distress will occur, a person will be unhappy, anxious, stressed and will accomplish very little.

Effective stress management rather than stress elimination is the fundamental element to ensure stress acts as a positive drive rather than a disease and distress provoking factor. The challenge to address the problems with stress is to ensure the sympathetic nervous system does not stay chronically aroused. Instead, techniques and a conscious effort to relax and induce the homeostatic state of the body that allows proper functioning of the digestive, cardiovascular and reproductive systems.

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