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Having confidence in your ability to adapt helps during stressful times

Date published: 10/19/2008

Remember the story of Little Red Riding Hood? While walking through the woods to grandma's house, she met a big bad wolf, who, after talking her into picking flowers, rushed ahead, ate her grandma, and hungrily awaited her arrival. In some versions, she was eaten, too. No happy ending there. In other versions, a woodsman comes and saves the day. Lots of stress in that book.

Needless to say, we are living in some pretty scary times, too--uncertain how this current financial crisis will end. But as humans we have an amazing ability to adapt.

Understanding this ability can help us to reduce stress and stay focused.

Here are some reflections on stress, using the story of Little Red Riding Hood for illustration, and to add a light note to a very serious topic.


When human beings perceive an imbalance between environmental demands and our ability to adapt, we become stressed. This prepares us to make a change--like to fight or to flee.

Clearly, Red Riding Hood did not initially perceive the wolf as a threat or she would have experienced physiological changes--like a rapid heartbeat and shallow breathing--that might have prompted her to beat the wolf with her basket or race home in fear.

In the information age, we have the ability to predict potential threats that may exist in the future. This is good because it maximizes our time to minimize danger. But it may also perpetuate a constant state of stress that is of little advantage to us.

Long-term stress can compromise our immune system and rob us of precious moments in the present. When we're pacing around on a beautiful autumn afternoon with sweaty palms and shallow breathing because the stock market is plummeting, we need to accept that this type of stress may be unhelpful.

Our challenge is to address the potential threats without living in a constant state of anxiety.

Imagine Red Riding Hood had never actually met a wolf, but was able to get statistical data on the wolf population and concluded that her chances of being eaten were quite high. She would need to figure out a way to address the wolf problem without living the rest of her life in fear.


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