The stress response is also known as the fight-or-flight syndrome. This syndrome manifests itself physiologically through rapid breathing, heart palpitations and sweating. In this article the question arises, can this response be a good thing?
It would be easy to think that the body's response to stress was just a modern phenomena. Due to the fast paced modern world it is almost possible to believe that this body response is a new condition for these times. Increased demands, childcare, relationships, and balancing a career with a home life are adding pressure to our bodies.
The fact is that this response has been around since the birth of man. When our ancestors were faced with a dangerous situation then their bodies would have exactly the same stress response.
The stress response activates the body's protective mechanism. When a stressful situation occurs hormones and chemicals are released into the bloodstream which trigger this body activation. This enables the body to either “fight” - increased strength and stamina, or “flight” - speed. So essentially this responding has been imperative to our ancestors survival – getting out of life threatening situations.
The current world sees stress as a bad thing and yet recent research is showing that how we perceive stress makes all the difference to how it affects us. Research from Harvard University (Jamieson, Nock and Mendes 2012) shows that if you perceive stress and therefore the body's response as a bad thing then stress becomes detrimental to your health.
But if you perceive the body's response to stress as a good thing - that the body is preparing itself to overcome and meet this challenge, then low and behold, stress does not have long term effects on your body.
So if you are facing an unpleasant situation and your body is responding with heart palpitations, sweating and rapid breathing, if you perceive it as bad then your blood vessels constrict. Less oxygen getting through to the heart and brain can lead over long periods of time to heart attacks and other illnesses.
The amazing thing about this research which turns the modern perceptions of stress on its head is that stress can actually be good for your health. What the researchers went on to find is that when a person is faced with a challenge and sees the internal response as a good thing then the blood vessels dilate. The ensuing body response with the blood vessels dilated is very similar to how the body responds when it feels joy or courage.
So if you change your belief now that stress is a normal part of living and see that it can take you into great spaces of joy and courage, your life changes. Rather than stress being something to avoid, stress becomes something to embrace and see as a beneficial part of being human.
What you believe changes everything. The next time you are faced with a challenging situation and your body is reacting, you can say to yourself, “Great, my body is getting ready to carry me through this and it will feel in my body like joy!”