Stress is not a villain: distress is

Stress has become one of the most popular words in common usage.  It is a scapegoat for a variety of health problems. Vast amounts of scientific work confirm that stress affects physical and mental health. 

Stress is just another a natural response body response. Distress isn’t.

Linking stress to a range of common diseases is statistically easy. The conclusion is always the same – that stress is bad and causes disease. The human-based literature is replete with studies showing stress as some kind of villain – despite numerous studies in the animal and plant worlds revealing a more balanced view of stress. There are very few studies in humans showing the benefits of some level of stress. In fact, stress within manageable limits has many benefits, for example, in helping achieve greater focus, improved working memory, energy when performing, and resilience.

Our bodies and minds are a balancing act all the time. We swing from the upside to the downside, sometimes in an explicable pattern, sometimes not. Take blood sugar. We must have some sugar in our blood because it is the number one brain food – just not too much or too little. The toxic effects of long-term blood sugar imbalance can extend to other organs such as the heart, kidneys and minds. We are one organism – the sum of all our connected parts. 

It’s similar with stress. Stress is just another a natural response body response that we need to maintain within non-destructive limits. Ideally, stress responses should help us perform, but they can be costly to both the body and mind, particularly when they are invoked too often or are ineffectively managed. It is then that stress becomes distress.

It is not  as simple as considering that excess stress that is bad for you, rather it’s important to examine the situation that is linked to the distress. Unfortunately, much research has focussed on how stress causes other problems, not what causes distress. 

If the accompanying or causal problems continue, distress can negatively affect our physical and mental health. Clearly, this has to stop. The first step is recognizing stress in our lives and when it is healthy, when it is not and when it signals imbalance in other health and personal areas in our lives. The second step is identifying situations that cause distress and determining how to change or manage those situations.

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