Stress, and Lessons Learned

Recently I tuned in to CBC  radio and listened to a program called Ideas. I like this program. It usually presents me with information that causes me to see life in a different way and this time was no exception.

They were talking about a research project where the brains of younger people and older people were examined while the each group experienced similar circumstances.

One part of the study involved having the subjects play a game with monetary stakes. Researchers observed that the brains of individuals who were winning looked similar regardless of their age, but when it appeared they were losing, the brain waves of the younger people indicated stress whereas the brain waves of the older people remained stable. Somehow, they also measured the brain activity in subjects who were experiencing real loss and found that they were similar regardless of the demographic.

Researchers found that the older group was less likely to feel stress over possible negative outcomes.

Here’s the conclusion they drew: When we’re young, hopefully before we’ve lived through any measure of real tragedy in our lives, we don’t understand how we would cope if we were faced with it. We’re afraid. By the time we are older, after we’ve experienced our share of sorrow we know we’re strong enough to withstand grief, loss, and hardship. As mature adults we know grief will come–it’s a part of life–but we don’t spend as much time fretting about it. We accept the fact that sorrow is inevitable, we grieve when it comes, and learn to appreciate the good times.

As the time we have left in our life gets shorter we experience more gratitude for those things we already have and our attitude of appreciation takes precedence over concern for things that may or may not happen.

I’ve had my share of sleepless nights due to worry, sometimes about situations in life that warranted concern, but more than a few times due to my own projecting “what if” outcomes. For the most part, I’ve adopted a come-what-may, trust-in-God, stance but I can still get caught up in a cycle of worry. It happened recently, in fact.

It seems different now, though.

I find myself looking for something positive in the what-if imaginings. I pray, make lists, plans, and take concrete steps to avoid imagined calamity, adjust my course if necessary, and I remember the past.

I remember prior times of God’s faithfulness in my life.

I recall times of feeling like I was being overcome with waves of grief and that I couldn’t possibly continue to feel that sort of pain and remain alive. But I did.

I remember laying awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, overtaken with worry about something that might happen. But it didn’t.

And I remember walking blissfully through my life and being blindsided by some tragedy that changed everything in a moment. And I survived.

So maybe the researchers are on to something after all. Perhaps this resilience is yet another benefit of growing older. I’m willing to consider that possibility. How about you?

14 Responses

  1. Kathleen Pooler (@KathyPooler)
    Kathleen Pooler (@KathyPooler) March 22, 2013 at 4:07 am | | Reply

    Lovely post, Linda! Age does have its benefits and this study proves it. Thanks for this reminder of the gift of resilience that comes from facing hardships and getting on the other side.

  2. Sherrey Meyer
    Sherrey Meyer March 22, 2013 at 8:47 am | | Reply

    Thoughtful and thought provoking! Linda, I’ve patiently waited for the benefits of getting older and similarly, I’ve begun looking for the positive in the situations that previously would have sent me into a state of anxiety and/or stress. Amazing what a few years can do for us!

  3. Joanna Jenkins
    Joanna Jenkins March 22, 2013 at 10:01 pm | | Reply

    Perhaps this is one perk of aging. I know that the older I get the less drama there seems to be in life… at least I hope so.
    Cheers, jj

  4. Dee Ready
    Dee Ready March 23, 2013 at 4:34 pm | | Reply

    Dear Linda, having recently experienced a panic attack that might have been a PTSD meltdown, I speak hesitantly of being more resilient. And yet I know that ever since having Meniere’s Disease in its progressive and intractable stage, I’ve been aware that I have so little control over what happens in my life. I can, however, mostly control the way I respond to the vicissitudes of life. And so I choose when worry encamps about me to simply say with Julian of Norwich, “And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceedingly well.” That’s my way of living in the present and in Presence. Peace.

  5. Barb
    Barb March 24, 2013 at 7:02 am | | Reply

    You’ve given me a lot to think about today. I’m a chronic worrier. I’m told it’s my attempt to control the uncontrollable. I do feel afraid of the “what-ifs” – mostly as it relates to my young adult children. I also have a son serving in the Air Force. Somehow, I’ve equated worrying with keeping them all safe – as if God will hear my fear and make it all okay. Faith is such a tough issue for me. Thanks for this post.

  6. Grace Peterson
    Grace Peterson March 25, 2013 at 10:59 am | | Reply

    I wonder sometimes if it’s not something a little more organic. True, the longevity of life with its tragedies and triumphs teaches us to endure the hardships. But I sometimes think it has more to do with the waning anxiety/stress hormone that happens as we get older.

    When I was younger, I was a worrier, extraordinaire but I think I’ve used up my quota now. Or at least I hope I have. Great post.

  7. Musings
    Musings March 27, 2013 at 12:36 pm | | Reply

    I think it’s very true. I’ve been surprised at how my aunt has coped with the death of a daughter and stroke of another daughter. I’d have been a basket case.

  8. Barbara
    Barbara March 28, 2013 at 6:51 pm | | Reply

    I think you’re exactly right. Through experience, we know worrying doesn’t change anything (and yet we still do it occasionally!) and that we can survive things we never thought we’d live through. Great post!

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