Stress: The misunderstood superpower

hero

Is stress your best friend or worst enemy?

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This post is part one of RethinkingTruth’s “Stress less” series.

Get me out of danger, now!

Humans are able to walk, talk, think, drink, eat and do all kinds of stuff. Nice. But, did you know that we have developed a super-power that helps us deal with danger?

Back in the day the world was an unpredictable place. Humans didn’t have much shelter and people lived close to all kinds of dangerous animals and enemy tribes. To deal with such dangers humans developed a superpower: “Stress”.

“Stress” is an evolutionary adaptation intended to improve short-term performance when facing danger. On a biological level, “stress”, simply put, is a situation where your brain perceives danger and orders the release of certain hormones into the blood stream (adrenaline, cortisol and several others). These hormones initiate a number of biological processes that increase your energy and sharpen your focus.

The “stress” ability has been a very successful add-on to the human skill-set. At the very second someone realised a lion was approaching the camp, his or her brain would turn on “stress-mode” and immediately be given more energy and sharpened focus. Both are needed if you’re going to fight a lion as those guys can be pretty scary…

lion2

But…something has gone terribly wrong

You’re probably aware of the fact that these days, few of us are hunted by lions and crazy killer-tribes. Sensible as you are, you would expect our brains to rarely perceive danger and assume that our “stress”-modes are off pretty much all the time.

But for reasons I don’t fully understand, there’re lots of situations our brain perceives as “dangerous” these days:

  • Lots of tasks and tight deadlines
  • Being late
  • Doing bad things
  • Lack of sleep
  • Eating a “normal” diet (due to blood sugar swings, digestion issues and so forth)
  • Arguments with people, especially your partner, family, friends, clients and colleagues
  • Financial problems
  • Traffic jams
  • Worrying about things
  • Overtraining
  • Multi-tasking
  • Living a high-paced life (running from meeting to meeting and dinner to dinner, rarely taking the time to relax)

What happens to someone who experience these situations often and is therefore frequently in “stress”-mode?

Your superpower has become your super-weakness

Your body has not been designed to be in “stress”-mode most of the day, every day. This, of course, is unsurprising. After all, how many times a day did our ancestors get attacked by lions and crazy killer-tribes?

The effects of being in “stress”-mode for longer periods of time are crucifying. Here are some examples that apply to most stressed-out people:

  • Your body breaks itself down as it prioritises immediate challenges over your long-term needs
  • Your risk of heart disease increase
  • Your immune system is weakened and you become sick more easily
  • Your ability to burn fat is reduced
  • Your belly fat increases
  • Your liver becomes fatty
  • Your get digestion and gut issues
  • You’ll become hungry and crave sugar
  • You’ll have less pleasant feelings and the chance of you becoming depressed, feeling anxiety and frustration is increased
  • You’ll think less about what’s good long-term and more about what’s needed right here and now

death

Scary stuff.

Wouldn’t it be great if it was possible to stop our brain from perceiving danger all the time?

Five habits of the stress-free life

With a little practice it’s very possible to get control over your misunderstood superpower. To live stress-free make the following five habits part of your life:

five habits of the stress free life

In the next five posts of this stress-series I will explain each of these habits and what you can do to make them part of your life.

However, is there something you can do today to start avoiding “stress”-mode?

What you can do today to avoid “stress”

To start your journey towards a stress-free life do this one small thing:

  • Spend five minutes every night observing your thoughts: Do this just before you go to bed. I find that sitting in the couch with my eyes closed is most effective for me. Sit back, relax and just observe your thoughts as they enter your mind.
    The purpose of observing your thoughts every night is for you to become aware of what’s happening inside your head. The main reason we go into “stress”-mode is poor thinking. Through awareness of your thought patterns you reduce “stress”. If you want to learn more about how to think read the hidden secret of outstanding performance.

observe

That’s it!

Next up in this series on stress is “Habit #1: Gain control”. It should be ready in a week or so and it’s something to look forward to.

In the meantime, have a nice week!
Bjarte Bakke.

NB: I’ve borrowed these pictures: hero, lion, death, observing. Thanks.

How often are you using your “stress” superpower when you shouldn’t?

13 thoughts on “Stress: The misunderstood superpower

  1. Bert

    Bjarte, thanks for this post and really looking forward to the series.
    I am using the stress superpower much, much more than I should. Your 5 minute reflection suggestion is spot on—cultivating awareness is key to starting the process.

    Reply
  2. Morti alius jock Bev George

    Music 60 ees (for me) Speekers either side of ones head (loud Brother Bones). If worreying is the right word ,One can only think whatever threw untill you get to a conclusion,and then your not shore any way..So MUSIC MUSIC If that dont work get your hands in the earth any way anywhere. Break habbits ??? seyu Crock..xx

    Reply
    1. Bjarte Bakke Post author

      George,

      Thanks for your input.

      I also use music for stress reduction and enjoyment. Listening to music can be a great way of removing poor thoughts from our minds. Right now I’m listening to “Nao Me Deixe So” by Vanessa Da Mata :)

      Reply
  3. Naina

    You were one of the most balanced people in our class. Read your blog for the first time, really enjoyed it. I will think of your 5 points when I get stressed for no reason next time.

    Reply
  4. Amy Gerrish

    Your 5 tips are great. However, I think you are confusing stress and your body’s flight or fight ability. They are 2 separate physical manifestations. One can be mimicked to treat medical conditions and one causes medical conditions.

    Reply
    1. Bjarte Bakke Post author

      Amy,

      Thanks for your nice words. Would you be so kind to elaborate on your understanding of these two separate manifestations? That would be most appreciated.

      Bjarte

      Reply
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    Reply

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