When More Stress is Less
We all know too much stress is bad for us – everywhere we look we see headlines and ads telling us how we can reduce our stress.
But what they’re not telling us is that not all stress is created equal. And in some situations, more “stress” (stressors, actually) can be better for our health than less stress.
These surprising results have been shown in numerous studies on rats and in one unintended experiment on humans. During World War II, the Nazis bombed England heavily over several months, with London bearing the brunt of it. London was steadily bombed every night, while the suburbs were hit much less often, sometimes only weekly.
As expected, the British experienced a higher rate of ulcers when the bombing began. What wasn’t expected, however, was who had the most ulcers – it was the suburban residents, who actually experienced fewer bombings. Why them? It was the lack of predictability. The London residents knew they’d be bombed in the evening while the suburbanites couldn’t predict it.
Most of the time, stress is worse when it’s unpredictable. Decreasing unpredictability in your life can help you cope through stressful times. Here are some tips:
- Get your things ready the night before. You’ve heard this advice before, but probably for a different reason. Sure it will shave off a few minutes in the morning, but it’s not the time savings that’s important – it’s getting rid of the uncertainty. Don’t just lay your clothes out – check the buttons and hems, and look for wrinkles or tears to avoid last minute surprises.
- Eliminate interruptions. At home, for instance, turn off the home phone and your cell phone at a certain time each day. Even small amounts of uninterrupted time can have big payoffs.
- Reduce daily hassles. Most people worry about the big stressors in their lives, but the biggest cause of stress is probably from small, daily hassles such as waiting in line, sitting in traffic, and misplacing things. Reduce your stress level at work by keeping extra supplies at your desk such as an extra pair of glasses or contact lens solution, an umbrella, and duplicate keys.