Long story short… to thrive we need good stress, good stresses which match both our capabilities and our recoverability, while at the same time we eliminate bad stresses.
Instead of doing so, we do the opposite: we drown ourselves in bad stress, while eliminating, avoiding, and escaping from good stresses.
Instead of taking on good stresses which challenge us, push us to further explore our potential, when overcome offer clues to our life purpose, offer meaning and significance; we weigh ourselves down with toxic stresses: toxic relationships, toxic eating and drinking patterns, toxic exercise routines, toxic career choices, toxic environments.
Drowning in the toxic stew of stresses designed to destroy us and the effort of escaping good stresses, we suffer physically, mentally, and emotionally. We suffer as we suffocate under a life which is far from anything we ever dreamt of as children.
Those that are able to discern good from bad stresses, instead of taking on appropriate amounts of stress, at appropriate intervals with time set aside to rest, recover, heal, reassess, evaluate, and train to re-engage good stresses smarter, take on good stresses in excess. Good stresses taken in excessive quantities, for excessive periods of time, overwhelm us, cause us to collapse under the pressure to perform constantly, bring them to a crashing halt, cause them to fall flat as if the ground below fell out from under their feet. Confused, they fall for the false belief that if they only tried harder, pushed longer, held on stronger, then they would have prevailed. With that mindset, they jump back onto the merry-go-round, spinning it faster and faster until they again fall off dazed and confused. Instead of thriving, growing, developing, striving, achieving and moving through life with an abundance of joy, peace, and most of all health, they too suffer. They suffer physically, mentally, and emotionally, unable to reconcile their full out attack on life with the pain, the anxiety, the depression, the anger and frustration which builds daily.
When a wind blows, branches may get knocked off a tree, but unless the entire tree is knocked over, then the stress of the wind is beneficial as it stimulates the tree to grow deeper roots. The wind and the shaking of the tree helps the tree sink its roots deeper, because the back and forth loosens the soil under the tree, around the root systems, opening up new areas so that once the wind stops there is new territory for the tree to grow into easily.
If the wind didn’t ever blow, the tree may think that it was growing in nirvana, but the result is that the tree would never be stimulated to grow more roots, or to grow its roots deeper or wider. The moment any wind did blow, even if just a gentle breeze, the tree could be toppled easily, especially a tree which gained height and weight through its years.
Life isn’t without stress. Avoiding stress or escaping stress may seem like the ultimate goal, but in the end, avoidance of stress becomes an inescapable stress itself rendering the avoider or escapee boxed in, cornered by the anxiety building from the reality of what if there is a stress or pain that finally catches up to them, a stress or pain that they cannot avoid or escape? Becoming skilled at avoiding and escaping stress, leaves us without the skills necessary – without the deep and wide root system – to learn how to eliminate those stresses and stressors which can be eliminated, and to engage those remaining stresses and stressors that challenge us, demanding that we grow and become.
A deep and wide root system anchors a tree against the strongest winds, allows a tree to source water and nutrients from a larger area. No different in us, the deeper and wider our range of strategies to deal with stress, the wider our physical base, the deeper our mental skills at navigating, and wider our emotional experiences of overcoming, the more capable we are of remaining rooted and steadfast, of standing still and strong, able to overcome the challenge. In the end, by overcoming we stand taller, we see further, we can cast our nets even wider.
A life lived avoiding or escaping stress has only one end point… a tiny box of existence. It leads to nothing much of anything as obsessions and compulsions are develop to sustain the status quo at any cost. But the inability to prevent change, to maintain the status quo ends up eventually taking life as opposed to preserving it.
No one likes to be shaken, no one likes to be pruned, and if stress is only seen as negative then as discussed there is only one end point. But that is why stress needs to be seen, and taught to be seen from numerous angles, from all angles, all perspectives, especially to our youth. This is why we need to differentiate between types of stress, appreciating that there are toxic stresses and also stresses which induce growth, stresses that challenge us, propel us towards our potential.
Forest fires are devastating, but it is in the ash of the fire, in the new fertilizer covering the land that new growth happens. In fact, there are types of trees which release their seeds only when the temperatures of a forest fire hit the tree. The stress of a fire could be devastating, but there is also a flipside to stress… it provides fertile ground for new growth.
To fear stress is to fear growth, but to fear growth requires us to deny, repress, and suppress that which is natural to us, leading to incongruencies within ourselves. These unresolved incongruencies are what lead to dysfunction, to disease. We attempt to hold back their effects, but all the sports nutrition, HIIT, veg, fruit, cleanses or detoxes, and pet therapy cannot and does not overcome when we are living out of phase with our true selves.
Our first decade or two of life provide us stress and pain after stress and pain. If portrayed as a negative we fail our children by refusing them the opportunity to prepare for life, by developing the strategies to eliminate or engage stress (as appropriate for the situation).
Why are we focusing on reducing stress and pain, when appropriate stress and pain, with appropriate supervision and appropriate mentorship would give children the deep and wide root system to stand on their own? The other extreme is no better. Inundating our children to excel at everything all at once, disrespecting that they have strengths and weaknesses, that they have a specific rate of growth, that there are seasons to their progression, that they have their own interests, that childhood is not a disease against which they need inoculation, and that childhood is supposed to have loads of time for play, for imagination, creativity, enjoyment and believe it or not loads of mistakes and errors (its called learning).
We truly need to ask ourselves… if appropriate levels of stress and pain (with appropriate mentoring, supervision, and coaching) yield a wide and deep root system, then why do we deny ourselves the opportunity to develop? If appropriate levels of stress and pain yield a wide and deep root system, then why do we deny our children the opportunity to develop, to rise to their potential? Children are not born knowing fear; children have to be taught to fear. If that is the case, then the question for us as adults, as parents, as teachers and as coaches is why are we modelling fear as a life strategy to our children?