The title, “Getting the Best Out of Stress” may seem a little bit odd to some people. The reason is we hear so much about the negative side of stress sometimes we begin to think that all stress is bad.
I want to make the point today that not all stress is bad and in fact, can be very beneficial. Next time, I want to share some specific ways that we can deal with stress that will help us when we adjust to a new culture.
We like stress
It may seem strange to think about this, but we enjoy stress. There are many examples of this from our everyday life.
Why do people enjoy reading novels? Because they like stress. Every novel opens with some kind of stress that gets resolved at the end of the book. Each chapter begins with stress that gets resolved at the end of that chapter.
Why do people like movies? For exactly the same reason-because there is stress. Every good movie has some elements of stress which are resolved at the end of the movie. If you think of every movie you have ever watched and enjoyed you can think of the stress that was there that made you excited about the movie. A movie without stress would be extremely boring.
Why do people like music? Because of the stress! In fact, the whole point of music is to create tension (read: stress) and then to release that tension. Think of the simple song, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Many people don’t realize it, but that same tune is the “ABC Song” and was actually written by Mozart. Sing the song to yourself, but leave off the last note. So sing it this way:
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you…
If you were singing that to yourself it will drive you crazy to leave the song unfinished. In fact, sometimes when I’m giving seminars I’ll sing the song and stop at that exact place. There has never been a time when at least one person, and usually several people, sing the last note because they can’t stand to leave it unfinished.
Why? Because the music creates tension. That tension is released when the song ends on the very last note. We enjoyed music because of the tension it creates.
Even our bodies need stress to be healthy. Muscles atrophy if not used and put under “stress.” Our bones become soft if we don’t walk or run and put them under stress. Recent studies have shown that exercise, which is stress for our bodies, is especially important as people grow older.
So why do we think that stress is so bad? Why do we have the idea that stress causes heart attack and other physical problems?
Because it does! What makes the difference whether stress is enjoyable and beneficial or painful and harmful involves resolution. The novel is enjoyable because the good guy wins in the end. We liked the movie because good triumphs over evil in the last reel. Music is enjoyable because the song resolves and ends on the last note.
Stress that is resolved makes us feel good. Unresolved stress makes us feel bad and can even shorten our lives.
Here are some important points about how cultural adjustment and stress are related.
1. Cultural adjustment always involves stress.
2. As human beings we always try to find ways to “cope with,” or manage, that stress.
3. Some ways that we cope are good (beneficial) and some ways that we cope are bad (harmful.)
Next time we’ll talk about ways that we cope with the stress that we face when we are adjusting to a new culture.
Discussion Question: Think through all of the hobbies that you enjoy, whether it be reading, playing video games, watching TV, listening to music, or painting. Is there some kind of stress involved that makes it enjoyable? What is it? Have you ever thought about this before? Please post your thoughts and your comments.