Stressors can be good for us

Posted by | December 05, 2018 | Emotions, Mental health problems | No Comments

I just read “American Sniper.” In the book, Chris Kyle tells a great story of his training as a Navy SEAL. He went on a training mission, swimming in San Diego Bay. Often the mission involved covertly placing a practice magnetic explosive under a ship. One time while he was in the ocean, something large rammed him at high speed. His first thought: Shark! But it turned out to be a dolphin trained by the Navy to attack humans. The ramming hurt like crazy, so Kyle swam under a peer, where he was sure that a dolphin would not go. He felt relieved until something slammed into one of his legs. It was a sea lion trained by the Navy to attack humans. The Navy wanted to stress the SEALS to get them ready for the demands of combat.

Stressors can be good for us. They can toughen us physically and mentally. They can increase our confidence and coping skills.

If you want to add stressors to your life, you can do so without becoming a SEAL. The fictional Inspector Clouseau presented us with an example in a Pink Panther movie. He has a houseboy named Cato, who cooks and cleans up and also has the task of keeping Clouseau trained in self-defense. One evening, after a long day at work, Clouseau comes home hungry. Cato is nowhere to be found. Clouseau opens the refrigerator to put in a few groceries. Out of the fridge springs Cato, who chokes the Inspector like a madman. Clouseau eventually beats the living daylights out of Cato.

OK, maybe we do not need that much in the way of stressors. What kinds of stressors help us?

Let’s start with exercise. When I do hard aerobic training, I look as if I am dying. As long as I do not work out like that too often, the exercise is probably good for me.

Mental challenges and problems to solve can also be valuable stressors. My next mental challenge: Setting up a phone application on a virtual reality headset. The app creates a simulated public speaking environment. I want to test the app on a few students who are afraid of public speaking.  If you ever saw me trying to use the DVD player connected to my home TV, you would understand what a challenge I have set for myself with the VR app.

When do stressors have overall negative effects? When they are too strong or when they last too long. When we start thinking that we cannot prevail and cease to take care of business. When we start to have stress-related problems with anxiety, depression, hostility, or substances. When our immune system starts to falter.

The level of stressors that is helpful rather than harmful varies from person to person. Some individuals are genetically and biologically predisposed to be mentally and physically tough. Some people use very good problem solving and coping methods. They view stressors as challenges. These individuals make excellent SEAL candidates.

What stressors help keep you physically and mentally tough?


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