Zoom Meeting Sermon November 20, 2022

 

Topic: The Benefits of Stress

Stress gets a bad rap. From self-help books to life coaches and gurus to lists of life hacks on the internet, it seems everyone wants to tell you how to live free from stress of any kind. What they don’t tell you is that certain types of stress are genuinely beneficial.

Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. (Source: online dictionary) It is the psychological and physiological reaction to challenging situations, and it is also the catalyst for growth and development.

Evolutionary changes are always triggered by a change in circumstances putting stress on the population. Without those changes and the associated stress, organisms have no need to change and evolve, and populations stagnate. Certain creatures have found an environmental niche and have not changed in millennia, such as sharks, crocodiles, and many single-celled organisms. They are an example of what happens when no stress is placed on a population. Now, it is true that sharks and crocodiles are apex predators, but they do not innovate or create and so have no need to grow or change as humans do.

Cultural revolution is also brought about by the stress of social change. When the oppressed start demanding recognition and justice, it forces society to re-examine its treatment of them, creating tension that can only be relieved by social evolution. This is how we achieved marriage equality in this country, it is how we ended slavery and then later Jim Crow laws. One of the most recent social stresses has been trans rights. While we may never live in a Utopia, we can only make progress by stressing the system until it adapts to the new paradigm.

On a personal level, you only grow as an individual when you are faced with challenges. Overcoming adversity is how we build character and learn vital survival and coping skills. Now, there is a difference between occasional challenges to overcome and ongoing, insurmountable stress. Constant stress on any organism or population will cause problems, and people who struggle with chronic stress often also suffer from mental and physical health issues. The pandemic is putting constant stress on global culture as we all struggle to adapt to a post-Covid world, and many individuals are experiencing a kind of burnout. On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, those who never seem to face any major challenges or stress of any kind have a hard time growing as individuals because they never have to, and often do not know how to deal with adversity when they are inevitably faced with it. We cannot avoid stress completely, nor should we aspire to. We need to learn how to handle adversity and challenges to our worldview. We need to grow as individuals and as a society, adapting to changes and challenges as they come about instead of pretending they do not exist.

Have you observed beneficial stressors in your own life?

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