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Does Stress Really Make Us Stronger?

Jun 02, 2021

I can be changed by what happens to me, But I refuse to be reduced by it.”  Maya Angelou

When researchers at Biosphere 2 in Arizona studied how trees would grow and adapt in a protected environment, they were stunned by the results.  Biosphere 2 is an enclosed ecological research facility whose original objective was to see if human life could be sustained in outer space.  What researchers found was that trees grow much faster in their domed, man-made environment, but were not able to develop deep root systems or fully mature, and ultimately fell over from their own weight. 

Without the wind continually moving the trees back and forth, they didn’t develop stress wood, which strengthens and ultimately extends the life of a tree.  Stress wood forms on the outside of a tree where the wind hits it, acting like the load-bearing wall we have in our houses.  The wind, they learned, is a tree’s partner in surviving over the long term.

Just as trees benefit over the long term from the wind throwing them off balance, we also develop and fortify through change.  The old adage “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” could point back to the “stress wood” that we develop through every challenge we survive. 

To make this fact of life easier in the short term, we could begin by asking – “How am I engaging with my stress?  Am I working with or resistant to my challenge?  When I recognize a challenge, do old stories flood my mind filling me with self-doubt, or can I create a new story along the way, partnering with the challenge?”

My feeling is that trees don’t have self-doubt, they just go with the flow.  We could attempt to take their lead by being fully present to the situation at hand, observe and mitigate old stories that don’t serve us, and forge a new path along the way. 

 “Learn character from trees, values from roots, and change from leaves.”  Tasneem Hameed

I in no way intend to marginalize the incredible pain, suffering and loss felt by so many people over the past year.  This is just a reminder that by using the example of trees and re-framing toward the bigger picture, we can celebrate our own resilience knowing that we are much tougher, wiser, and capable of going the distance than we likely thought was possible. 

Reflecting on your own newly formed stress wood…

How has the past year changed you?  What do you appreciate more now than you did before?  What are you willing to let go of?  What do you wish to nurture?  

Now is the perfect moment to make new declarations about how and who you wish to be moving forward.  I’ll be wishing you continued good health and a renewed spirit to guide you. 

 “Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”  Kahlil Gibran

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