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What Does Stress Do to You?

I’m a student of how different people respond to stress.  What makes some athletes crumble under pressure and others rise to the occasion?  What make some business leaders struggle during difficult times, and others bounce back with creativity and innovation?  Recently, Gary Saul Morson, reviewing Solomon Volkov’s book “Romanov Riches” wrote about he great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky.  It’s a great lesson in how extreme stress does different things to different people:

“Perhaps Mr. Volkov’s best story concerns Dostoevsky. Arrested along with others in the radical Petrashevsky circle, the young novelist, after months in prison, was taken from his cell one December day to face execution. A sentence of death was read out. The prisoners were given long white peasant blouses and nightcaps—their funeral shrouds. A priest enjoined them to repent. “We shall be with Christ,” Dostoevsky whispered to another prisoner, receiving the mocking reply: “A handful of dust!”  With the first prisoners at the stake, and Dostoevsky, in the next group, watching, the riflemen took aim. After a minute that lasted an age, the drums beat a retreat. The czar had reduced their sentences but arranged for the mock execution as part of their punishment.  [Afterwards] One of the prisoners went mad; another went on to write “Crime and Punishment.””

Does stress break you down, or make you stronger?

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4 Comments

  1. This was a brilliant piece Phil. After personally experiencing a total and complete “Job” story the first time in my 20’s, it broke me down initially but then, after the couple years of grief, I rose up the following years to passionately pursue life and everything in it because I realized just how short life was and I wasn’t going to miss it. I also made a conscientious decision immediately following our son’s death that I would not become an angry, bitter, ugly person. I would not let my pain be in vain, but would build upon it for the good of others. I did it that time without God and my deck of cards came crashing down only to face a second repeated round of “Job” (with God). That time, it was more about determination to beat the odds and the hellish adversity that chased me down. It became about focusing on God and avoiding the slippery slope of defeats that I was familiar with fist time around. It starts with determination in your head when you’re stressed to overcome adversity; it’s a mental decision to continue on, and when it’s over, do something creative, positive and intentional that helps others in some way. There is a positive purpose for stress; it’s how you react to it that determines your outcome in life.

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