Writing about stress is almost a cottage industry, although I would imagine living in a cottage would only be stressful if there was a poor internet connection – first world problems.
I came across this article We need to be taking the physical symptoms of stress more seriously.
It did nothing to gladden my heart. A magazine tract you might read in the dentist if your phone battery died. It both states the obvious (psychological stress has physical consequences) and yet trivialises the matter – just go for a run…
There is no mention of any research into the problem, for example Sapolsky’s excellent and readable, ‘Why zebras don’t get ulcers’, nor any deeper attempt to look at the structure of stress and our responses to to it.
As an example of this last point, surely the first task in responding to an event is to decide if it is adversity or not. A hungry lion walking into the room may well be an adversity to which escaping through the nearby open window would be a good use of a stress response.
This gives us some perspective. The stress response is not there to give us migraines and drive us to drink, or even out for a run. It is there to alert us to a danger that was probably going to be a physical danger and so gearing up for a physical response therefore a good idea.
As Sapolsky explains, the occasional stress response and successful escape from a predator is is good deal compared with being dead – given that it is occasional occurence. However, constant daily triggering of the stress response, especially from psychological ‘stressors’ skews the equation so that the costs of the stress response begin to be outweighed by the negative effects (all of which would be acceptable on an occasional basis as an alternative to dying).
I would suggest this points to two things. One is that understanding how stress occurs can work towards us recognising when something is a threat and when it is merely something we do not like. The second is that we may have had no control over when a sabre tooth tiger may have decided to eat us, but as societies we certainly do have choices about how we live and work and what behaviour we want to accept and encourage.
Both of these points speak directly to stress management. Stress management is not about a list of tips. It is a learned process that begins with recognising what is, or is not, a threat and scales up to choices we should be making about what direction we want our societies to go in.
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