Moderate stress keeps your body and brain healthy

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If you exercise in a regular balanced way, your body will grow stronger. Your muscles, reactions and overall physical condition will improve.

If instead you exercise way beyond your body’s capabilities, you damage your body and harm yourself.

If you don’t exercise at all, your muscles and body will start to atrophy and you will grow weaker. That run you could do easily a few years ago is much harder if you haven’t been exercising regularly.

Exercise is a type of stress on your body. In moderation, it’s positive and is essential in helping you maintain and grow your health.

Your brain works the same way. It needs stress to exercise or it will atrophy.

This ‘intellectual’ stress comes from learning, creativity, curiosity, developing new skills, interactions with others, being challenged and expanding our comfort zone.

By working hard to cope with moderate levels of stress, your brain promotes neural growth hormones that support learning and development.

As with physical exercise and our body, very high levels of stress overload the brain, leading to panic and disassociation.

And lack of stress prevents our brain exercising, which leads to shrinkage and means we cope less well with future events.

We grow from moderate stress because it stretches us without breaking us, and it’s finite. When it ends, we switch back to healing mode afterwards to recover.

Our growth occurs during this healing phase. That’s where our body repairs our muscles and our brain creates new neural pathways.

Chronic stress, which causes and perpetuates chronic fatigue, doesn’t end, so we never get this chance to recover and grow. It’s the opposite of what we need.

We need to remove our sources of chronic stress, in favour of discrete moments of moderate stress followed by recovery.

When you begin to realise how chronic stress has been perpetuating your fatigue, it’s easy to start thinking that all stress is bad and that we need to cut out every type of stress from our life.

But that’s not what our body and brain need. As with most things, a balance is best. We shouldn’t be afraid of stress itself, that’s not the issue. The problem is ongoing, chronic stress, where we don’t get a chance to recover and heal.

This balance will change as our recovery progresses. Initially, we need to remove as much stress from our life as possible, to build up our energy reserves. In this stage, even mild stress, and especially any form of exercise, can be counterproductive.

As we move towards the later stages of recovery, we are able to gently introduce regular, moderate levels of stress, in the ‘good stress zone’, followed by periods of rest and recovery. These form the foundation of a sustainable recovery and our long term health.