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In a recent TED talk, psychologist Kelly McGonigal proposed that we suffer from stress because we believe that stress is….stressful. Citing a number of studies, she told her audience that people who believed that stress is exciting or productive did not get sick or die as often asthose who believed stress was bad for you. These kinds of studies always make me laugh because they imply that somehow, there is a way to avoid death.

Later that week, I was talking to an elder who had also seen the same video. He smiled and said, “How old was that speaker, maybe in her 30’s? Probably hasn’t even had kids yet. I’d like to talk to her in twenty years.”

We all benefit from a little kick in the butt; a deadline, another child on the way, a promotion, a hurricane. Stress releases adrenaline and yes, according to McGonigal, oxytocin (the hugging chemical). This generates a feeling of excitement, power, even a touch of lust (oh how many romances bloom in challenging times like political campaigns and late night dress rehearsals!). The sympathetic nervous system goes into high gear to get the job done, the renovation complete, the climb up Kilimanjaro successful.

And then we need to rest. We need to pause, to re-organize, the take a breather. The parasympathetic nervous system needs to come in, repair and rejuvenate the organism. Even a car needs a tune up.  While I love quoting “evidence based studies”, it is beginning to seem like there’s a study to prove anything. In one of the studies McGonigal quoted, the people who were told that stress was good for them performed better than those warned that the activity would be stressful. Any parent knows that if they tell their child to be nervous, she’ll be nervous.

We are suggestible creatures. Humans once believed letting blood was good for you. That bathing was dangerous. That sunshine was bad for you. That sunshine is good for you. That sunshine is bad for you. That coffee is bad for you. That coffee helps your brain. That stress is bad for you. The list goes on and on.

The important thing is to listen not just to “experts,” but to yourself. Does this make you feel good? Are you thinking clearly? Do certain foods make you bloat? Is stress good for you? That depends on you. Take a moment and listen to yourself.