Stress Blessed
By Anthony Casperson

It’s not often that I watch TED Talks on YouTube, but every once in a while an interesting sounding one pops up on my feed. One such of these videos appeared recently (though the video itself is about 6 years old). It was entitled “How to make stress your friend.”

Needless to say, the title itself is intriguing for someone who not only deals with high amounts of stress in a regular basis, but also writes about the realm of “negative” human emotional experiences often.

The presenter spoke about how often we report statistics about stress being harmful for our health. Claims of people suffering stress-induced aliments (up to and including death) being higher for those who experience higher amounts of stress seem to show a direct correlation. That makes sense to us. You stress more, you get hurt more. Stress equals physical detriment. Seems obvious.

However, through various research studies, the presenter showed that the amount of stress a person underwent was less important to the amount of physical harm they experienced than how the person viewed the stress they experienced. If the person viewed the stress as something that prepared them to handle the challenge rather than something that was harmful to them, they were able to handle the stress better.

Not only that, in long-term studies, those who didn’t view stress as harmful to them were less likely to experience stress-induced ailments than even those who experienced relatively little stress. Hear that again. People who experience relatively little stress are more likely to undergo stress-induced problems than those with large amounts of stress who also see stress as a helpful thing.

According to these studies, facing stress with a perspective of the adrenaline and faster-beating heart aiding us to overcome the challenge set before us is good for us. It keeps our blood vessels from constricting like they normally would during stress. They open like they do during times of great joy or courage.

On top of that, the presenter reported one more study showing that one of the hormones released during times of stress is very helpful to human beings. One reason is because this hormone increases our desire to be around other people. It increases our empathy and our desire to help others. And another reason this stress hormone is helpful comes from the fact that our hearts have receptors for it, which then helps the heart’s cells regenerate.

Stress can literally help heal our hearts, if we view stress as something that empowers us to overcome the challenge, as opposed to something harmful for us.

This TED Talk struck me as interesting because I’m in the final stages of getting a book published where I write a biblical perspective of God using the “negative” human emotional experience to grow us. Life can occur in The Depths. It’s not harmful when God purposes for us to be there. The TED Talk showed me that science backs up my biblical research.

One quick reference for us (because these blogs are meant to be shorter) is James 1:2-4. The half-brother of Jesus, writing to followers of Jesus who were experiencing increasing amounts of persecution, writes that we should consider it a joy to undergo trials of various kinds. Joy because of various stressors, James? Are you crazy?

No. James understands that these trials create in us a spiritual fortitude. And when we have trained ourselves with this spiritual endurance, we can become mature and whole. When we consider the stresses of life to be the work of God in us, then we can grow in him.

The joy doesn’t come from us wanting to deal with stressful situations, but from being empowered by God to overcome the challenge before us. And when we view it that way, our spirit heals instead of suffering harm.

When we stop thinking that every difficult situation is God punishing or abandoning us, and instead realize that it is an opportunity for God to work his amazing power through us, we can find growth and healing rather than harm.

In this sense, the stresses we experience can be blessings from our God who desires us to grow in him. But that is only if we stop viewing the stresses as negative and harmful things.