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Stress has been my friend for years. Not always a pleasant friend, and often an uncomfortable one—even downright painful, occasionally. Many times stress has come around with bad news, many times with good news, and always when something new, unexpected, or different was happening or about to happen.
Nowadays, stress and I know each other well but I must confess that when we first met I wasn’t very impressed. For a long time I considered the chances of having a good relationship with stress quite remote. In fact, I thought of it more as an enemy, and a dangerous one to boot. I know now that my bad attitude toward stress and my refusal to accept its friendship was simply because I did not know any better. Once I got to know stress, its function, its benefits, and the advantages that it had in store for me, our friendship became rock solid.
You may ask who would even think of calling stress a friend. I bet I know where this question is coming from: stress has a bad reputation. The reputation of something that needs to be reduced, eliminated, cured—in other words, a disease. And one can’t be friends with a disease, right? I agree, one can’t. For as much as I try to be kind and understanding to an illness, I can’t really say that it would be possible to be friends with it. So, what gives?
Well, you see, that’s really the point. Stress is not a disease. It is an alarm system. A sophisticated warning mechanism that alerts me to the fact that something or someone requires my attention. The ability that stress gives me to identify and become alarmed by threats and challenges in my environment is an essential element of survival and adaptation. This is true for me, for you and for all humans and animals. That is the #1 reason I am proud and grateful to call stress my friend. I don’t know what I would do without it.
Imagine what would happen if stress wasn’t around. If threats and challenges provoked no reaction whatsoever in me. A bus could be coming down the pike headed straight for me and I wouldn’t have an immediate instinctive reaction to it. I may be about to be attacked by highway bandits, and I would placidly saunter along, oblivious to the danger. My body would continue to be calm, my muscles relaxed, my heart beating normally, my priorities elsewhere.
But, since stress is there for me, I become immediately mobilized against my attacker and I can make a quick, almost instantaneous decision to step aside, run away, attack or defend myself, with all my senses fully alerted, and my body primed and ready for activity. It takes stress only a fraction of a second to start waking all my systems up and to mobilize my resources.
Every time there is potential danger, be it financial, interpersonal, physical, psychological, or anything I think might be harmful to me, stress is there. And even when there is something wonderful and new that I might miss if I weren’t paying attention, stress is there. Stress is my friend, the one that helps me pay attention in all situations when something unexpected happens, or when something I expected does not happen. It is also there for me to give me the ability to deal with something new, when something is missing, when there is an imbalance, or when there is a physical threat to me or to the people and animals I care about.
Oh, and one more thing that stress does for me: the stress reaction acts as a safety system that automatically assigns the highest priority to a serious and sudden threat, that helps me sort quickly through what is important and urgent to me, and what is not. Thank you, friend!