By Dr. Annika
Someone asked me that the other day. I will go about answering that question the long way.
Most of us talk about “stress” meaning emotional stress and generally too much of it – it’s also known as distress. I think it can generally be summarized as: “too much to do and not enough time or energy to get it done.”
The interesting thing about this is that the stress is only detrimental if you think it is (!) and also that people who feel stressed generally have deeply meaningful lives (at least in our society where food on the table/roof over head/ not in a warzone applies) – which is a good thing and contributes to longevity.
So maybe we should all just reassess what we class as “stress” – such as instead of “I hate doing the dishes!” maybe “I feel so blessed that I have shared a delicious meal with those I care about”.
Another strategy is re-evaluating it by asking if what we are stressed about will actually matter in 5 years’ time. Prioritize the important things. And to the women in the audience: I suspect that most husbands prefer a happy and content wife to a “better homes and gardens”-ready home!
Then there is Eustress (yes, it has a name!) which is that sweet spot when you are stimulated enough to be interested and engaged but not overwhelmed.
So now here comes the answer to the question: Is there such a thing as not enough stress? YES! It’s called “boredom”. I actually think that boredom is an incredibly valuable space to be in, because this is where creativity resides.
This is when you can tune in to what exactly your heart desires just at the moment, what would feed your soul. Or where you can tune in to what your body desires – rest or walking in nature, for example. Wonderful! It’s where you try cooking a new kind of food or activity or meet new people or go somewhere you haven’t been before. I think we can agree that it is incredibly enriching.
This is when kids play games with very little raw material and build these incredible worlds and stories in their imaginations. Allow the kids to be bored rather than offering entertainment – when it gets painful enough they will come up with something.
This is also where play as a family blossoms – and families that play together stay together.
So relish boredom!
Taking this whole concept a bit further and looking at other types of stress.
Mechanical eustress for our bones, say, is walking and running in Earth’s gravity. This stimulates our bones and keeps them strong and healthy. Too much stress creates a fracture, such as a stress fracture. And not enough stress is what astronauts experience in outer space – they lose a lot of bone mass while in zero gravity and need to pound their bones for a while (gently to start with of course) so that they re-mineralize and get strong again.
Chemical stress is a bit trickier and not one I suggest fooling around with. By using certain substances, like say caffeine, we increase the production of liver enzymes that break down caffeine – as well as other compounds, which are then more easily broken down if they show up in the body. The trouble with trying to induce your liver enzymes is though that you kind of rob Peter to pay Paul, because they all require nutrients and those are scarce already with our normal Western diet. In fact, our livers are already running to capacity to deal with all the man-made chemicals in our environment (possibly one of the reasons so many of us have a hard time with diary for example); liver enzymes were really only ever designed to deal with the toxins that our own bodies produce as a normal part of our metabolism as well as a few outside nature-made toxins.
In any event, the take home message is this: A little bit of stress is actually good for you! It keeps you engaged and interested and feeling alive. Too much stress needs to be chunked down so it becomes manageable. And boredom can be a wonderful way to explore new things.
May you find your eustress sweet spot!