We're constantly told to relax and take it easy, but stress may actually help us to focus and succeed in life.
Wednesday, 4 May 2011
Don't worry – and it might happen. Worrying may be a key to survival; a first step in the body's defence strategy when faced with threats. Pioneering research using brain scanners has located the worry centre of the brain and suggests for the first time that it is an area involved in survival and the evaluation of threats and risks.
The same team of researchers has also shown that drugs used to treat worry or anxiety disorder have an effect on humans' defensive reactions.
"Feelings like worry and anxiety may be unpleasant, but it seems they are part of our defensive repertoire and help keep us safe and it is only when they become exaggerated do they represent an illness," says Dr Adam Perkins of King's College London. "Our ultimate aim is to improve the detection, diagnosis and treatment of illnesses, such as anxiety, where there are unusually strong and debilitating forms of worry."
Fear prepares the body to confront the threat or run away, by triggering physiological changes including a tensing of muscles ready for action and a faster heartbeat to get more blood flowing.
Most people are in the middle of the "worry continuum". They worry about money, children and everyday things, but it doesn't interfere with their daily lives. In fact, mild-to-moderate anxiety has been shown to have tangible benefits. A study of patients having minor surgery showed that those with moderate anxiety did better post-operatively than those with high or low anxiety levels. One theory is that moderate anxiety about real threats helps people cope with those challenges. There are those who worry all the time and for whom anxiety is a disabling, excessive, irrational fear of everyday situations.
"Biographical information about Charles Darwin, for example, suggests he was plagued for much of his adult life with severe anxiety, but he was also substantially more intelligent than the average person.
"People who worry and are also blessed with high IQ tend to be visionaries, planners, creators and inventors. People who do not worry much at all, but are also highly intelligent, tend to be the successful implementers in frontline, stressful situations. For example, fighter pilots typically have low levels of anxiety and are able to operate their planes on highly-dangerous combat missions."
While some worrying is necessary and protective, both too little and too much, it seems, can be dangerous.
Excessive worrying is not only potentially unhealthy, it has absolutely no value and purpose.
As the American novelist Alice Caldwell Rice, put it: "It ain't no use putting up your umbrella 'til it rains."