Stress Benefits For Your Brain. Nietzsche’s Freakonomics Of Small-Dose Poisons:
Most of the time, it’s important to stay on the straight & narrow path.
Balance is an idea that’s been curated for millennia for good reason.
But when anyone really starts exploring something, it involves new territory that’s bizarre and weird before it gets figured-out.
It’s always Freakonomics before it becomes economics.
Just like the animal venoms that can kill a person in full-doses, but are helpful at ones several orders-of-magnitude smaller.
And freakily-enough a UGA team found out that one of the things poisoning many of us today can be helpful, in much smaller doses…
The Short Answer:
- Balance is a very helpful idea curated by history.
- But sometimes newer solutions are weird at first.
- Just like venom or toxins, one of the things poisoning us today is stress.
- It can usually be terrible for health in many ways.
- But what if like Tim Ferriss suggests, there is such a thing as good stress?
- A UGA team investigated this with MRI & survey data.
- They found in two separate studies that some stress is helpful.
- The helpful dose was low to moderate, and non-chronic.
- In one study, it was shown to improve working memory.
- In the other, it reduced problems like Anxiety & Depression.
- That work showed it also improved cognitive function like task-switching and attention.
- Just like the people who survive to 100, high quality networks are a great buffer & indicator for stress-survival.
- In addition to changing your work or how you view it, there are other practical things you can do to reduce stress’ impact.
- These include things like Meditation, Journaling, Exercise, and specific Breathing Exercises.
Read on to find out the details…
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The Four Horsemen Of The Stress-Pocalypse:
So there are a few things poisoning most of us today: Social Media, Depression, Anxiety, and of course, Pete Davidson.
And with them, comes the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse: [no, not Frank Stallone] Stress.
Wherever you look, that word is associated with all kinds of bad health outcomes.
Whether it’s precipitating cardiovascular events, reversing the effects of even a great diet,
Accelerating aging, ruining leisure-time fun, you name it.
But what if we borrow a different type of mentality from the mindset of challenge and engage in what Tim Ferriss calls, “Eustress instead of Distress.”
Great Minds Think Alike. UGA’s Stress Researchers Borrow Tim Ferriss’ Idea:
That is exactly what Assaf Oshri’s team did at UGA.
They asked the same thing as any of the big pharma guys investigating cone-snail venom or poisonous plant toxins using an idea called Hormesis.
Ie: If we turn the dosage down by a huge degree, can this negative be turned into a positive?
And even for Stress, the answer was Yes.
The Human Connectome Project’s Brain Data Helps Prove The Point:
To that end, the team examined MRI scans & self-report studies from about 1,000 people in The Human Connectome Project that tries to understand how the brain is wired.
Regardless of the age or demographic, all subjects who reported low-to-moderate stress had improved cognitive function.
Specifically, this was in the brain’s “engine room of intelligence”, the working-memory!
So out of all the regions that this positive effect could occur, that is both a great and very uncommon one.
You always hear about studies involving improved long-term memory and executive function like decision-making, but almost never working-memory.
Earlier Work By The Same Team Shows More Widespread Benefits:
Furthermore, the same team published slightly earlier work that shows stress can act as armor to prevent some mental health problems.
In about the same doses as the aforementioned study, and on a population of 200 more, from the same data-bank,
The team found that stress improved cognitive function, task-switching ability, and lowered rates of psych problems like Anxiety and Depression.
But as you might imagine for both studies, the line between a helpful dose and a harmful one was very thin.
ACHTUNG BABY! You Have To Be Super-Careful With The Dosage:
As the more recent work suggests, once the stress level goes above moderate, the benefits go away and you get back into all of the really harmful effects.
In another stipulation that echoes the results of a very famous study on workplace stress called The Whitehall Study,
Oshri’s team also specifies that the stress probably should not be constant, either.
The final qualifier comes in his commentary about the prior work,
That each person is different, and the helpful dosage threshold varies for each individual, so not everyone will respond with as much improved cognitive function and resilience-ability as everyone else.
How Can We Look For Similar Benefits In Our Own Lives?:
So since this is a health site, the next question becomes, “How can I become as resilient as an entrepreneur and keep stress down to the right amount and type?”
This may come as a bit of a challenge, but the work on entrepreneurs and Whitehall both say similar things, just from different sides of the equation.
If you can find or change to work that has at least some degree of autonomy and most-importantly, does not have some kind of constant but also-unresolvable stress, you will be better off.
There may also be a way to change your mindset around, and look at the stress you do have from your job and find ways to manage it.
There is a chance that even incremental progress can change the landscape.
Don’t Forget The Human Element!:
Also, the last part of UGA’s study suggests that just like one of the big secrets to living to 100,
High-quality social networks that occur in real life can really help buffer against unexpected adversity and lead to better results.
In a different way, there are similar results when the high-quality relationship at-issue is with yourself.
Studies on Purpose show that if the task or goal undertaken is part of a greater theme of Meaning and there is some kind of positive, ultimate, “Why” to its dedication, then you’re also likely to be better off.
A Few More Down-To-Earth Practices Less Lofty Than Purpose & Meaning:
A few other ideas on stress-reduction from the stress & aging superpost are:
1) Cardiovascular Exercise
2) Mindfulness Meditation
3) Avoiding Inflammatory Foods like Sugar, Corn-Oil, Canola Oil, Deep-Fried Foods, and Ultra-Processed Foods
4) Automatic Writing of Worries for 5 minutes non-stop (and then deleting the document and sometimes shredding or burning a printout of it afterward.)
5) Talk Therapy
6) Temporarily Lower The Bar On Your Self-Expectations
7) Listing What’s Stressing You & Considering Life-Changes To Eliminate As Many Sources As Reasonable
8) Perhaps Going Into Recovery Mode if the stress is a big shock, like a Cortisol dump.
9) Getting great at breathing techiniques like Andrew Huberman’s recent research for Anxiety.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger And Grittier:
So everywhere you look, research science is full of freaky surprises.
And even though Conan O’Brien reminds us that when Nietzsche said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Nietzsche also failed to emphasize that: It almost kills you.
Perhaps with a little more care, tweaking, and backing-off when we need to,
We can all attain a little more grit and resiliency through some exposure-therapy to that pervasive poison, stress.
JUMP BONUS! Conan O’Brien’s Dartmouth Commencement Address:
References & Links:
• Source(s): UGA 1 | UGA 2
• Source Studies:
•Neuropsychologia – Low-to-moderate level of perceived stress strengthens working memory: Testing the hormesis hypothesis through neural activation
•Psy.Research – Is perceived stress linked to enhanced cognitive functioning and reduced risk for psychopathology? Testing the hormesis hypothesis
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