By Rick McDaniel
Published October 28, 2018
A recent Statista survey reported that Americans are more stressed out than they were decades ago. The top stressors are finances, work, health and relationships. Seventy-seven percent of people experience physical symptoms caused by stress and 73 percent experience psychological symptoms. Forty-eight percent of people feel they are living with extreme stress and the same percentage lay awake at night due to stress.
But what if stress is not all bad, what if it can actually be good for you? We can choose to have a different perspective on stress. Ideally, we would have stress without distress - the negative results of stress. Stress can create positive results not just negative ones. Gravity is a stress to your body but you certainly wouldn’t want to live without it. What if stress can be used in a positive way?
Stress motivates us
Stress can motivate us to get stuff done. Deadlines are stressful but they get results. I live my life with deadlines. Every week I have to prepare a sermon to deliver on Sunday. As we say in the church world, Sunday comes every seven days. I have to write a weekly devotional that is published every Wednesday. I have to write articles for Fox News and other publications. And when I am writing a book (thankfully I just finished my latest) there are deadlines or a book would never get written.
Stress motivates us to accomplish goals. Any entrepreneur pursuing their dreams will tell you about their stress and about the joy of seeing their dreams come true. Stress will motivate us to make needed changes in our lives. There is nothing like a relationship problem or a work challenge to get us to do what we haven’t done previously.
Stress helps us
A study done at Harvard University taught participants to rethink stress as helpful. To view signs of stress as positive that their body was being energized and preparing them to meet a new challenge. When they were given a social stress test and viewed their stress response as helpful they were less anxious, less stressed out and more confident.
Seeing stress as positive changes your entire outlook. Certainly, stress is unavoidable but not dealing with it positively is what leads to physical and emotional issues. If you have a more positive perspective it can actually help you.
A study was done of 30,000 adults over eight years asking the questions, “How much stress have you experienced in the last year?” and “Do you believe that stress is harmful to your health?” Then they used public health records to find out who died.
People who experienced a lot of stress but didn’t view stress as harmful were no more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study even including the people who had relatively little stress.
Our response to stress makes all the difference. We can have frustration or fascination. When we are frustrated we react shutting down our brain. When we are fascinated we respond jump-starting our creativity.
Instead of thinking, “Why is this happening to me?” we can think “How can this be solved?” Using our stress to help us think creatively is what can solve our problems and actually relieve our stress.
Stress connects us
Stress connects us to others. Stress releases the neuro-hormone oxytocin in our brain. This is sometimes called the “cuddle hormone” because it causes us to crave connection with family and friends. God has literally hardwired us for community, to seek out relationships when we experience stress.
The more we focus on helping others the less stress we will have. When we spend our time working together to do good it bonds us. Our connections grow stronger while our feelings of stress dissipate.
Romans 8:28 tells us, “God always works in things for the good.” Not that all things are good but good can even come out of bad. God can work in our stress and bring good out of it.
When you play a guitar, the strings need to be tight enough to make music but not too tight that they will break. We need a certain amount of stress in our lives. Not too much but just enough.
When we experience stress, it can motivate us to do what is necessary for our happiness. It can help us to meet life’s challenges and solve our problems. And it can connect us to one another in ways that bless our lives.