People also need an equal amount and intensity of recovery to neutralize the harm from stress. Too little stress will weaken. Too much will destroy.
Use it or lose it. Wrap up your muscles in a cast, they weaken and atrophy. Don’t stress the immune system every day, you will be vulnerable to disease. Don’t stress your brain, you stop improving. We need stress to keep us alive.
Create the balance between stress and recovery. Too much stress is not the problem, it’s not enough recovery. Physics tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The sea becomes flat when two opposing waves hit at the peak and at the trough. It’s the same with stress. Meet stress with an equal and intense amount of recovery to counteract the cortisol-stress response that causes increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, stops digestion, shuts down the immune system and inflammation.
Fear-based stress is caused by not knowing what's going to happen in the future. Fear of injury, fear of failure and fear of looking bad. Counter this fear by learning everything you can about the future event.
Conflict-based stress is caused by external conflict or internal conflict. External conflict at work or at home. Boss yells at you? Counteract this by connecting with friendly people that will support you no matter what. Internal conflict is caused by going against your deep-rooted values. You lash out at someone and become upset from stress because this goes against your internal value of being kind and accommodating. Counter with kindness. You need to learn and identify the cause of your stress so that you can apply the appropriate recovery counter balance.
Physical stress-recovery. Psychologist Nick Hall is an extreme kayak athlete and talks about the need for physical recovery that must be in the same amount and intensity as the stress. For athletes and working out, it’s important to counter the stress of an exercise with the opposite move for recovery. You exercise your biceps with 10 reps with a 40-pound bar, you counter this with ten reps of an 80-pound triceps pull-down exercise.
Emotional stress-recovery. At work, you may be doing a task requiring numbers and calculations, counter this with work involving creativity with images and sounds. You get yelled at by the boss, counter this with an equal amount of time and happiness with a friend. You have a stressful event at home, you need to recover with an equal and opposite amount of something good.
Subconscious stress-recovery. In addition to physical stress and social stress, there is a potentially dangerous type of stress that may occur at your subconscious level unknown to you. Nick Hall talks about showing a picture of a coiled rattle snake ready to strike to a person who has severe fear of snakes, and the person has an acute anxiety attack. However, tear the picture up into tiny pieces, randomly paste them on a piece of paper, and show this picture of random pieces to the person. There will be no reaction, but if the person is monitored by a functional MRI machine, the amygdala lights up, cortisol is released, and the heart rate increases all without knowledge at the conscious level. This experiment shows there are stress triggers going on all around us day and night (during dreams) at the subconscious level that triggers the cortisol- stress response. These need to be neutralized with an equal amount of recovery. Discovering these triggers and aligning the conscious mind with the subconscious can be helpful. Nick Hall suggests training the subconscious mind to recognize stress as a trigger to provide an equal recovery response. For example, run or exercise at your baseline then increase by 10% for stress, then 10% below baseline for recovery, and then back to baseline. Repeat at different percentages both ways always returning to baseline. Eventually, stress will trigger a corresponding recovery time.
Stress related to explicit memory and implicit memory. Explicit memory means you need to think about the activity. You’re learning a new skill like driving a car, you need to think about each action. Implicit memory means it’s permanent and automatic. You start and stop your car without thinking. However, your subconscious can play tricks on you. For example, you’re playing a sport and doing well using implicit memory, then you start thinking about what you are doing, and you fall apart because you started using explicit memory that requires energy and loss of focus.
Extreme hyper-stress situation. People may and often react differently under extreme stress. The controller who is in charge of a meeting begins to have resistance from other meeting members that escalates to personal insults resulting in such severe stress, the controller gives in completely and shuts down. The accommodating person in an extreme life-threatening situation may suddenly become an intense controller taking total charge. It’s not because these individuals lose memory, it’s that they switch from explicit to implicit memory. They lose explicit memory and gain implicit memory. This is useful to know because this may explain opposite and uncharacteristic behaviors in yourself and others during extreme stress.
Call to action. Stress is needed for a healthy and invigorating life. Say yes and embrace opportunity despite the potential stress. You can manage the stress so it contributes to success. Counter physical, emotional and subconscious stress with an equal amount and intensity of recovery.
Gary R. Epler, M.D. at Epler Health
#1 best-selling author of “Alive with Life”