Our Natural Ability to Perform Under Stressful Conditions
Our mind and body are very flexible and resilient systems, and are capable of performing wonders under extreme conditions. They can withstand enormous pressure, especially when faced with risks that threaten our existence or well-being. What we are able to achieve under such unusual circumstances is mind-boggling when we look back.
Temptation to Perpetuate Extreme Performance
In view of our capabilities, some people constantly live in a state of emergency, often boasting of their fitness, exceptional strength and endurance. They enjoy facing great, almost impossible challenges and proactively seeking new ones. Their notion of fun (or professionalism) is breaking all barriers and going beyond limits to set new records or crush competition. For them, being engaged in intense, exceedingly stretching and high risk challenges that put off most people is a way of life. It’s their primary motivation and purpose of life without which life is meaningless. They include hobbyists, sportsmen, professionals and businessmen.
Is it Rational to Overstretch Continuously?
Is it really desirable or sensible to continuously put your mind and body to test? Should the display of extreme performance be an exception or a norm? After all, would you drive your car at full throttle every time and everywhere? Including, around schools, hospitals and traffic jams? Would you continue to lift and carry weights throughout the day, long after your weight training is over? For how long would you keep the pan on stove, on high heat? It would burn out and so would you!
Thus the above cited attitude and lifestyle entails a heavy price.
The Cost of Chronic Stress
Our body and mind are very responsive to environmental conditions, including physical, social and psychological stimuli. They constantly adjust their function to support the conditions and our actions. Body’s response to stressful conditions is part of our fundamental defence and survival mechanism, also called the “fight or flight” response. Extreme activities lead to spikes in heart rate, blood flow, blood pressure, respiration, muscular tension, brain activity and overall stress. While these physiological changes are necessary to enable us perform, the condition is not sustainable with high intensity or prolonged exposure to stress. That increases our physical and psychological wear and tear and can cause numerous health issues, including:
Stress fractures, tendon and joint issues, osteoporosis, sexual dysfunction, Gastrointestinal and eating disorders, obesity cardiovascular, respiratory and mental health issues, depression, suicidal thoughts and personality disorders etc.
Chronic stress also has a terrible effect on relationships. In addition, our energy reserves are rapidly depleted just like the fuel consumption when you hit the gas. An exhausted body is also susceptible to disease, dampening your immune system. Your capacity to prevent, fight and cure disease is significantly reduced under high stress. And ironically, exposure to prolonged, high stress level tends to result in poor performance.
Moderation or Short Bursts of Peak Performance
From a long term perspective, moderation is the key to optimum performance. Though, admittedly, it doesn’t sound that sexy compared to the short term alternatives. Alternatively, you could plan and go for short bursts of intense, strenuous effort to achieve specific target, followed by period of moderation. And you may repeat the pattern until your higher order goal is achieved.
Working hard, going all out and giving it your best shot for something you love or hold dear is not only acceptable but a commendable human quality that we should all cherish. But that does not necessitate adopting a path that would likely jeopardize your health and well-being. We must avoid pain and regret as our final destiny.