This is the limit of force that the material can withstand without risk of permanent damage. Push any material past its stress point, and it will break or become structurally weakened in a way that makes its future performance unreliable. Naturally, you need to know the stress point of any material you use, and (unless you are trying to break a particular object) you must avoid subjecting a material to any force beyond that point.
In our lives, and as it relates to our bodies, stress works much the same way, but it is not so simple. First, there are more forms of stress to contend with (physical, mental and emotional). Second, our personal breaking points in all these areas are not nearly as clear or predictable as the breaking point of, say, a piece of metal or wood. Third, because we are living organisms, not inert materials, we have a dynamic response to stress: While too much stress can certainly break us down, our built-in adaptation response to stress can also make us stronger. For example, if you have watched the Life Time Fitness LeanSource Speed Up Your Metabolism DVD (you can pick up a copy at any of our clubs or at the educational section of our Web site at http://store.lifetimefitness.com), you know how pushing our bodies to a point mildly past their current comfort zone encourages them to adapt by becoming more capable and resilient.
Mental-emotional stress works a bit differently. It, too, can have a powerful physical effect, but that effect is rarely positive. The stress you feel when you are pressed for time or money, when you are worried about a relationship or pressured by your job – these forms of stress generally manifest as anxiety. You might experience anxiety as a jittery feeling, as tightness in the chest, neck or shoulders, or as a gnawing in the pit of your stomach. These are all cues that your body is experiencing some level of fight-or-flight response.
The net effect is the release of cortisol and other hormones that essentially break down your body in an effort to provide you with an emergency supply of energy and strength. In an emergency, these hormones come in handy, but over time, these same hormones can cause imbalances that utterly undermine your long-term health. Bottom line: The more consistently you are stressed out, the more consistently your body is going to be breaking itself down.
Clearly, it’s a good idea to seek out certain types of stress challenges, and to avoid others – but how? This issue of Experience Life offers some excellent suggestions, and also equips you with strategies for better managing the various types of stress that come your way. But I think it is also important for each of us to spend time each day simply putting things in perspective. It’s important for us to consider whether the stress response we are having is really merited by the situation at hand.
When you feel your anxiety levels rising, remember that the fight-or-flight response you’re feeling was developed over millions of years for purposes of emergency survival in the wild. In the context of your daily, modern life, it’s unlikely to do you much good. It’s also important for us to recognize that there are many all over the world who really are hungry for food and water, who have no clothing or shelter or access to medical help. Seen in this context, many of our own daily worries seem far less immediate and daunting, and perhaps less deserving of the massive anxiety we afford them.
With this in mind, I encourage you to step back from your own stress for a moment. Take a deep breath, and as you exhale, count your blessings. Release your worries, or simply accept them for what they are – and if you can, let yourself smile through them. There is virtually no life challenge that isn’t better handled from a place of hope, gratitude and positive belief. Which is just one more reason not to let stress get the best of you.
Wishing you a relaxing and rewarding summer,
Founder and CEO, Life Time Fitness