The Quiet Danger of Being Under-Stressed

Stress is bad for you. Your ears aren't foreign to this platitude, right?

With the murderous intensity that we sometimes get sucked into, stress can feel like a monsoon we can't outrun.

But does this also mean that we should orient ourselves to have a life free of stress?

Maybe not.

While it's true that dense, chronic forms of stress can lead to harmful outcomes, it seems as though life is a dance between enough stress that keeps our spirit alive but also limiting it to a certain amount so it turn doesn't turn us into a tree full of termites.

I was in the kitchen the other day preparing my cocktail. The ice cubes rattled to the bottom of my shaker, and then they twirled around as the water rushed in to fill the empty space. I took a handsome scoop of chocolate flavored dust and threw it in. A second scoop followed. 

In a moment, my protein shake had turned into a 6th grade volcano science project. Clumps of brown powder scattered over the counter. Mud water flowed over the shaker's edge and the whole thing had turned into a fantastic mess.

I salvaged the thing, but not before it reminded me of a few lessons. 

Too much water turns into a small fiasco. But with no water, I don't get anything. Both outcomes weren't what I was looking for.

Stress works in a similar way. When we pour too much of it into our lives, it typically yields a small fiasco. But with no stress at all, we don't get anything. Both outcomes aren't desirable.

We're becoming more aware of the over-stressed potential, but just as dangerous is the under-stressed potential. The latter is one where we show lack of guile. 

Consider the ruthless criminal from the Twilight Zone.

He is killed in a pursuit running from the police and then greeted by an angel. The man cannot believe he has made it to heaven.

After gathering himself from disbelief, he locks it up and starts to gunslinging his desires: he asks for tons of money and gets it; he requests lavish food and receives it; he demands any woman of his choice and they arrive.

In time, the man grows bored in a life of perpetual indulgence, absent of any effort.

The man decides he needs to challenge himself because he is tired of not doing anything. He asks the angel for some work and expects to receive it since he has arrived in a place where he can get anything he wants. What he doesn't know is that the one thing he wants - challenge - is also the one wish he will not be granted.

After the angel denies him any work, the man says he wants to go to "the other place." Since the man was a criminal, he was referencing that he be removed from heaven and be sent to hell. The angel then says, "This is the other place." 

With no stress at all, we grow tired of the effortlessness.

We desire to contribute. Our hearts yearn to love. The muscle between our ears wants to solve problems and express creativity. In nurturing these needs, stress becomes a part of the recipe. It's an ingredient that must be handled with intention.

If we pour too much in, it chokes us. But without it, it bores us.

Knowing how much (stress) to use is not determined by a fixed recipe. Rather, it's to be used on a continuum, exercised based on the seasons of life.

By pivoting this way, we change our mindset towards stress. We aim to get good at using it as a tool to help sharpen us, rather than a villain that destroys us.