By John Rice
We can all agree these are stressful times. We are being rocked by political and economic turmoil. Stress is such an enemy that we do our best to relieve it. We knit and color and take yoga. Some pop pills and drink alcohol. But what if a certain degree of stress is good for us? That's the belief of Irish psychologist Ian Robertson.
In a recent Tribune article, Robertson says he's a proponent of the theory that what doesn't kill us, makes us stronger. He claims that job worries, money problems and social difficulties can make our brains work better. He says that, "The brain needs to be challenged to be improved." He tested his theory on subjects in their 70s and found that those who had recently suffered stressful events had less memory loss.
Moderate stress sharpens our memory, while severe stress impairs it. Another example involves people with back pain. Those who had been subjected to stress were better equipped to deal with the pain and become productive again. Those who hadn't were more likely to rely on painkillers and be slower to resume normal activities.
As parents, we attempt to protect our kids from stress. We don't want to place them in demanding situations where they may fail. However, kids who haven't been tested by stress are more likely to become depressed. Sometimes when we're trying to shield our kids, we're actually holding them back.
My parents had no problem placing us in challenging situations. I was under the age of 6 when my dad would send me to a busy corner to buy him cigarettes. We wouldn't think of doing that today. Some parents won't even allow their kids to walk to the park. They also have kids ride buses, rather than walk the short distance to school. We're not doing our kids any favor, if we don't toughen them up a bit.
As for adults, Robertson recommends relieving stress by setting modest goals. It could be something as simple as taking a walk. Robertson also has clients take five long deep breaths to change their brain chemistry. We can also re-boot our brain by squeezing our right hand for a minute or so.
Just the simple act of standing up straight can relieve anxiety. Robertson said we can also prepare ourselves for stressful situations by imagining them in advance. For example, if we have to confront a co-worker, we can imagine how uncomfortable it's going to make us feel. Then, when we're actually facing the situation, we can use relaxing techniques to cope.
Can you imagine a life without any stress? Sounds boring, right? A social worker said that if we didn't have any stress, we'd sit and eat and watch TV. I believe some of us are doing this. However, those of us who are feeling overloaded by stress should find ways to reduce it. Stress can kill us, rather than make us stronger.
The best stress-reliever for me is taking walks. While I'm walking, part of me feels that I should be returning phone calls or listening to music. The other part thinks that walking is entertaining enough and that being alone with my thoughts is a good thing. We're fortunate to live in a very walkable community and I have many chance encounters with people I know. Serendipity beats stress every time.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.