Stress to a certain degree is unavoidable in the workplace and in a daily life. And so I think a general principle is that even if stress is unavoidable, what we can do is we can change the amount of time that we’re exposed to stress, for instance by making sure the stress is transient. 

Another aspect of responding to stress is how we modulate our response to stress.  And this happens throughout life.  So for instance, you might think that stress is always bad, but in fact, stress is beneficial in the sense that it helps us. The stress response helps us conserve resources and get away from danger.  

And so even early in life, it’s possible to learn to modulate our responses to stress.  For instance, it’s been observed that being briefly separated from one’s parent, if you’re a lab animal, being briefly separated from your parent and then reunited with your parent, can lead to reduced stress responses into adulthood. 

So as long as the stress is transient, and then taken away, that seems to be a feature that leads to better stress responses later on. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock