Can Stress Be Good For You? (Seriously.)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

“Why do engineers build bends in roads?” That’s the question with which clinical psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist Ian Robertson begins his new book, The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper, due for release in January. The answer, explains Robertson, is that a road without bends—an endlessly, monotonously straight highway—lulls our brains into a state of “autopilot.” And in energy-saver, half-alert state, it’s surprisingly easy to make a dumb mistake—or fail to react quickly to a change in circumstances. When driving a two-ton vehicle 60 miles an hour, such flashes of mental failure can be deadly, of course.

Luckily for us, though, the road of life has no shortage of bends, says Robertson, the T. Boone Pickens Distinguished Scientist at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas, at Dallas. Sure, those bends, quite often, manifest as stress, often bringing profound anxiety when we’re not prepared for them. But here’s the rub: That stress, says Robertson, can actually help us perform better if we know how to harness it.

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