8 February 2019
IS STRESS A BAD THING? PART 1
Before speaking to the stated topic of this blog, I’d just like to thank Jacob once again for the opportunity to contribute to the JPS team. I’ve been impressed by JPS since our very first interaction and it means the world to me to be able to work with them.I find the question of whether…
Before speaking to the stated topic of this blog, I’d just like to thank Jacob once again for the opportunity to contribute to the JPS team. I’ve been impressed by JPS since our very first interaction and it means the world to me to be able to work with them.
I find the question of whether or not stress is a bad thing to be very insightful, as I think stress is commonly misunderstood as being unequivocal damaging. Admittedly, such a view is highly intuitive given the narrative to which we’re exposed, which speaks almost exclusively to the negative effects of stress (eg insomnia, overeating, anxiety, depression). However, upon even a fairly cursory analysis I think we find that this common view simply doesn’t hold up. Specifically, it’s actually the case that humans thrive under stress – the issue lies in degree and duration.
If it’s not clear what I mean by this, consider the case of me writing this blog post. At the moment, it’s 4:16am and I’m fairly tired after a long day of school and working (I was up at 8:30am). Overall, I’d say I’m moderately stressed. Nonetheless, I am voluntarily engaging in this activity because overcoming the stress I’m experiencing is fulfilling. In other words, exposure to a level of stress which is neither overly strong nor overly long is actually desirable.
To run a counterexample, consider the case of a theoretically minimally-stressful life, including unlimited access to money, food, etc. While this might seem immediately highly attractive, I’d put my money on the majority of persons ultimately finding such a life to yield lower wellbeing than a life involving more stress. Admittedly, this quickly moves us into questions of personality traits such as industriousness versus laziness (the highly industrious would likely prefer a higher overall level of stress), but in the absence of really good data I think it remains a reasonable generalization.
Thus, we find ourselves faced with the conclusion that stress – at least some stress – is desireable. This naturally leads to the question:
“Well, how much stress?”
Unfortunately, as a non-expert I see no means of either reliably quantifying stress (something like plasma cortisol yields a hard figure but strikes me as a proxy for overall stress, which is subjective), or determining the singular ideal level of stress for each individual. However, I think we can define it approximately as the level of stress which maximizes fulfillment, keeping in mind superfluous stress doesn’t lend itself to subjective fulfillment precisely because it’s more than the individual can handle and thus overcome.
In wanting to give something of a practical recommendation, I’d encourage each person reading this to ask themselves if the level of stress to which they’re exposed is at, below, or above their coping abilities. If it’s below, I think taking on additional work (regardless of type) could improve wellbeing or at least present an opportunity for growth. If your perceived stress exceeds your perceived ability, I’d suggest you take on less responsible (keeping in mind, though, that your perception of your own abilities may be skewed). If you feel the stress to which you’re exposed is in alignment with your coping abilities, you’re golden, and I’d encourage you simply to continue doing what you’re doing.
In my next piece, I’ll go in a more concrete direction and offer suggestions of how specifically to reduce stress when it’s excessive. See you soon!