Last night, after “unplugging” for two weeks on vacation, I struggled to adapt to a 7 hours time difference as I made dinner. Suddenly, a light bulb went off and I remembered that I had to be on a conference call in 5 minutes. Rushing to finish, I reached for the sugar to add to the dish but dipped into the salt instead.
An hour later, choking on the salty Chinese stir fry, I realized that my brain, still in vacation mode, wasn’t up to rushing or multi tasking.
I think that Dr. Esther Sternberg (Pain in Women: Impact of Stress) would say that my brain wasn’t responding with enough stress. Or maybe it was too stressed from working too hard. I’m not sure.
Chronic illness and stress. Who doesn’t think about stress when thinking about disease and illness progression? From my first episode with MS in 1980, the message was stress is bad — avoid it at all costs.
But I’ve always balked.
Stress is woven into life. When I was very sick, most people encouraged me to stop work. Work is always assumed to be stressful. If you believe that stress can be only be managed by controlling what happens to you, then not working can seem like a way to control illness. Rubbish!
Sure, bad jobs can feel toxic. But good work can be highly satisfying. I’ve felt wound up and tired getting Thanksgiving Dinner on the table, making an airplane on time or listening to my children’s problems!
There is research showing that stress compromises the immune system. Stress can make you sick. And there’s research indicating that those with certain autoimmune diseases are lacking a critical ability to fight stress properly.
Dr. Sternberg points out that stress can be good. It gives us energy and helps to achieve peak performance. But too much stress and your performance declines. That’s a slippery slope that requires clear sighted observation on your part. And that’s where we can get lazy.
Full Disclosure: I realize that this is a simplistic and not in depth summary of a long and highly technical, scientific lecture intended for physicians. I hope you’ll view the video.
Some of Dr. Sternberg’s suggestions for modulating your response to stress:
- “shut down and reboot” – it’s good for you
- having “a sense of control” can reduce stress – you can fool your brain
- no one way works for everyone – find what works for you
- no one way works for you every time – be ready to try different things.
How do you define stress? What have you done to respond differently to it?